By Jim Bakken
Enrollment at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, bolstered by record recruitment and retention gains, increased by 1,202 students year-over-year to a record-high 19,535 for the fall 2016 semester, including a 24.7 percent increase in the freshman class.
The 6.56 percent increase in the student population from 2015 to 2016 is significant at a time when many universities across the nation struggle with declines.
“This increase exceeded even our best-case year one scenario and is evidence of the unparalleled opportunities and value UAB offers,” said Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Bradley Barnes, Ph.D., who has launched several initiatives to increase enrollment since joining UAB in July 2015. “Enrollment increases were not limited to a few popular paths or programs; they were seen across the enterprise.”
Every school, as well as the Honors College and College of Arts and Sciences, grew this semester, and Barnes says this is just the beginning.
UAB President Ray L. Watts says these are the kinds of results envisioned when he established enrollment as a strategic priority and set a goal to have 20,000 students enrolled by 2018.
“The work our students, faculty and staff are doing in education, research, patient care, community service and economic development is making a real difference in Birmingham, Alabama and beyond,” Watts said. “And the more students who become Blazers, the bigger our impact will be.”
Watts says Enrollment Management has done a tremendous job, and they did not do it alone.
“Bradley and his team share this success with everyone who has played a role in making UAB the best place for students to be,” he said. “We are telling our story more effectively than ever before, and the world is seeing UAB through the pride and many accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff.”
Watts and Barnes also cite aggressive improvements the Information Technology team is making to the information infrastructure; unique programs faculty and staff are creating that prepare students for success in the real world; campus beautification efforts and new state-of-the-art buildings like the Hill Student Center the Facilities team continues to bring online; the unprecedented investment in UAB’s success from community leaders, fans and alumni; statistics that show the UAB Police Department has helped make UAB among the safest universities in the state; and continued support for aggressive growth from the System Office and Board of Trustees.
“Those,” Watts said, “are just a few examples of how so many people are involved in our success.”
UAB is the largest single employer in Alabama, has a $5 billion annual economic impact in the state and spans more than 100 city blocks — roughly a quarter of downtown Birmingham.
“The fact is that the days of UAB as a commuter school are long gone,” said UAB Provost Linda Lucas. “We have a vibrant campus full of in-demand programs and opportunities, and students who do their research recognize that quickly.”
A promising student body
UAB welcomed its most accomplished freshman class to campus last year, with an average composite ACT of 25 and GPA of 3.66. At the same time overall enrollment increased this year, UAB remained consistent with last year’s record high-achieving freshmen with an average ACT of 24.9 and GPA of 3.65 in 2016. Freshmen with a 4.0 or higher GPA represented 29.6 percent of the freshman class, an increase from last year’s 28 percent. Also, 17.6 percent of the freshman class had an ACT score of 30 or higher.
After the early success in retention rates of Blazing Start students, enrollment increased 229 percent in that program, growing to 92 students from 28 the previous year. The UAB Honors College — which recently produced UAB’s third Rhodes Scholar (more than any other university in the state since year 2000) — enrolled its largest-ever freshman class of 502 honors students. Those students average a 4.08 high school GPA and 30.3 ACT, to bring the college to a record-high total enrollment of 1,540 honors students.
Freshmen and undergraduates
After a 24.7 percent year-over-year increase to 2,021, the incoming freshman class is the largest in UAB history. The previous high-water mark of 1,773 was accomplished in 2013. The undergraduate student population also increased roughly 7.5 percent.
UAB invested in additional Enrollment Management staff, including a bigger presence in Alabama and four regional recruiters in strategic markets across the country.
“Building our team strategically has been effective,” Barnes said. “We are also bringing guidance counselors to campus, getting great results with our recruitment materials and expanding opportunities for students to earn scholarships.”
Retention boosts enrollment
Overall retention increased by a rate of 3.1 percent from 78.7 to 81.8 percent in 2016, a key indicator of student support and success that factors heavily into the semester’s record enrollment.
“Enrollment is much more than getting new students on campus,” Lucas said. “We have to make sure that all of our students are engaged, enjoying the campus experience, and have access to the support services and resources that enable success.”
UAB awarded 4,522 degrees this year — more than any previous year, which exceeds the milestone of 140,000 in the institution’s history, a trend Lucas says is another area of positive momentum on which she plans to build.
More Alabamians #ChooseUAB
UAB is committed to ensuring opportunities for qualified in-state applicants, and the student body has 662 more in-state students in 2016 than 2015. Over the last few years, UAB has increased outreach to public school students around the state and launched many initiatives to enhance access, including Blazing Start, the Woodlawn Early College Initiative, GEAR UP, and the two-year college Joint Admissions and transfer agreement initiatives.
“We are committed to dramatically increasing the level of scholarship support for Alabama residents and will continue to accept all in-state applicants who qualify for enrollment,” Barnes said. “Our campus has the capacity to accommodate increased enrollment of in- and out-of-state students.”
Out-of-state and international students
Out-of-state enrollment is up 13.7 percent, and international enrollment is up at least 18.6 percent over last year. UAB can accommodate out-of-state enrollment growth, including international growth, while maintaining a commitment to in-state students
“We are proud that UAB is one of the most diverse college campuses in America, and increased international enrollment will help us grow on that success,” Watts said
In December 2015, UAB launched a strategic partnership with INTO, a private global educational company working with 22 leading universities across the world to expand opportunities for higher education, ensuring international student success and achieving globally diverse and integrated campus communities. By the fifth year of the partnership, it is estimated that more than 700 international students will have enrolled through the new joint venture.
Diversity as a priority
Diversity is a longstanding core UAB value, with “rich diversity” appearing in the first line of the alma mater. The institution has been recognized by the Princeton Review for diversity, and UAB continues to be one of the most diverse universities in the nation; 37.8 percent of the student body is minority, and minority students make up 43.7 percent of the freshman class. Students enrolled at UAB now represent 105 countries. The student population is 21.4 percent black and 61.1 percent female.
Students who transferred to UAB increased 17.8 percent in the fall semester year-over-year, from 1,357 in 2015 to 1,598 in 2016. In 2013, UAB launched its Joint Admission program with several two-year colleges to increase access to UAB and opportunities for students. The Joint Admission program provides automatic acceptance to UAB and a $2,000/year scholarship for students who earn an associate degree at participating institutions. It also allows students in the program to access UAB amenities and resources while enrolled in community college. In 2016, UAB instituted a reverse transfer agreement that enables credits earned by students at UAB to count toward an associate degree at Jefferson State.
The Birmingham effect
Barnes’ team is on the front lines of interaction with potential students. Prospects, he says, are choosing UAB for many reasons, including unique programs, new state-of-the-art facilities, world-renowned faculty, unprecedented excitement in Athletics, undergraduate research opportunities other schools cannot offer, and economic value, among others.
Another consistent theme is the value of Birmingham to UAB students.
“Our city’s resurgence and growth continue to bring new amenities and create internship and service learning opportunities unparalleled in Alabama,” Barnes said. “Students have access to resources on and off campus that add to their college experience and career preparation.
“The reciprocal pride between UAB and the city of Birmingham also goes a long way with students and prospects. They are aware of the investments being made in UAB by the community through the $1 billion Campaign for UAB, including Athletics fundraising efforts and a resulting momentum in enhancing the student experience. It builds confidence in their college choice when they see some of the most prominent business leaders in the state backing our institution and their futures.”
In a truly mutually beneficial relationship, increases in UAB’s student population create wins for the Birmingham region. The influx of students brings diversity, new ideas and promise, and exposes more young adults to the building excitement surrounding Birmingham’s continued growth while boosting the local economy.
A complete student experience
UAB was once considered a commuter school, but now more than 72 percent of the record freshman class lives on campus.
UAB Vice President of Student Affairs John Jones and his team have been working to implement and enhance programs that build on opportunities for a first-class student experience.
“Student engagement is at an all-time high at UAB,” Jones said. “We have the facilities, faculty, staff and students who deliver a full range of offerings and experiences, and our students take a very active role with us in building programs they most want and need. We work in partnership with our students to create a holistic student experience. UAB is truly a very special place, and it is rewarding to see it reflected in our enrollment and an energized and engaged student body.”
Access additional enrollment statistics online on the UAB Institutional Effectiveness website.