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Enrollment decline at NU marks lowest number of students since 2009

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Fall semester enrollment across the University of Nebraska fell below 50,000 students to its lowest systemwide total since 2009.

The 49,560 students counted on NU’s campuses in Lincoln, Omaha, Kearney and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis reflects a 2.2% loss from the fall 2021 semester.

The enrollment numbers are drawn from a student census taken on the sixth day of classes.

While more students are taking classes in key workforce areas like agriculture, public health, allied health and engineering, NU President Ted Carter said the higher education system “can’t afford to be stagnant on enrollment.”

“These numbers aren’t shocking to us, but they are disappointing,” Carter said in a news release. “I’ve told the chancellors that I expect an all-hands-on-deck effort to get us where I know we can be. This is the time to be bold and creative in our thinking.”

Across the system, the number of first-time freshmen dropped slightly, by 0.2% to 7,847 students. The number of undergraduate students dropped 2% to 36,370; enrollment of graduate students dropped 3.6% to 9,498; and professional student enrollment dropped 0.2% to 3,442.

More than 50 construction projects are part of the university's effort to renew and replace aging buildings on its Lincoln campus.

Moving forward, Carter said enrollment growth will be NU’s “top priority.”

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, enrollment dropped once again, falling 2.6% to 23,805 students, which is the lowest reported at the flagship campus since 2008.

UNL attributed the loss, in part, to increased graduation rates dating back to 2018, when more than 4,000 bachelor’s degrees were awarded – a trend that has continued in the years since.

The number of students coming to Lincoln from other countries also remains low and helped drive some of the loss.

Since 2018, UNL has experienced a 62% loss in international students – a combination of political tensions and the coronavirus pandemic has caused the losses – while those that do come to Lincoln have graduated at higher rates.

“The most important measure of our success is graduation,” Chancellor Ronnie Green said in a statement. “I am incredibly proud of the record number of Huskers who have gotten a degree from UNL in the last five years. We’re going to dig deep to continue to bring in new students.”

In contrast to UNL, international student enrollment at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center has begun to rebound, the university said.

Student numbers at UNO dropped 1.7% to 15,058 this year, while UNMC reported a slight increase of 0.4%, bringing its total numbers to 4,406 students. The small boost at the med center campus marks the 22nd straight year of enrollment growth.

The University of Nebraska at Kearney, while reporting increases in the number of non-Nebraska students coming to campus, saw its enrollment drop 3.7% to 6,041 students this year.

The Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture also experienced a loss in student numbers, falling 2.3% to 250 students.

The Nebraska State College System, which has campuses in Peru, Wayne and Chadron, reported slight improvement in its enrollment numbers for the fall semester.

The 8,254 students across the system reflects a 0.2% increase over the fall 2021 count, and the fourth-straight year of increases. Since 2018, enrollment growth at the state college system has risen by 6.3%.

“Enrollment growth does not happen by chance but is instead the result of the dedication of staff and faculty,” Chancellor Paul Turman said, adding the state college system has worked to expand degree options and pathways for students.

That work has helped drive a 19.7% growth in transfer students to state colleges this year. A total of 541 students have transferred credits to a state college for the fall 2022 semester.

“These options and pathways allow Chadron, Peru, and Wayne to meet students where they are and assist them in getting to where they want to be,” Turman said.

But, like NU, the state colleges are seeing losses in the number of first-time freshmen on campus. A total of 1,359 freshmen are enrolled at Peru, Wayne or Chadron this year, which reflects a 9.3% loss over last year.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

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