• October 26, 2020

Multi-faceted approach sparks UTPB enrollment increase - Odessa American: UTPB

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Multi-faceted approach sparks UTPB enrollment increase

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Posted: Friday, October 16, 2020 11:47 am

Inside its 6,102 students this year, University of Texas Permian Basin has seen huge jumps in some important categories like undergraduate students.

The number of undergraduate, graduate and dual credit students have all jumped. There has been a 66 percent jump in undergraduate students to 4,033 from last year.

Graduate students have increased 20 percent this year to 1,238 and dual credit has risen 14 percent to 831, information from UTPB shows.

Michael Chavez, executive director for strategic analytics, said most of the students, 1,415 or 23 percent, come from Ector County and 838 or 14 percent are from Midland County.

It drops to 4 percent from Harris County and 3 percent from El Paso. Bexar makes up 3 percent of UTPB students while Tarrant, Cameron, Presidio, Dallas and Travis are all at 2 percent.

Other Texas counties send 30 percent of students to UTPB.

UTPB President Sandra Woodley said 85 percent of UTPB students come from Texas and there are 133, or 2 percent, of students who are international and 13 percent of the enrollment comes from other states in the country.

Many of the international students are athletes, Woodley said.

But Chavez pointed out that international students are in various programs like engineering and nursing.

First-time, full-time, degree-seeking freshmen are up 54 percent from fall 2019 from 277 to 427.

New graduate students full-time degree seeking rose 55 percent from 119 to 184, information from UTPB said.

New full-time, degree-seeking transfer students declined 25 percent to 208 from 227 last year.

And new full and part-time degree-seeking undergraduate transfer students jumped 38 percent from 402 in 2019 to 554 in 2020.

“This year, we have record numbers of first time in college students. I think those are the efforts that are coordinated through enrollment management and through other resources in trying to recruit local area talent to educate our local area population so we can keep them here,” Chavez said. “I think that makes a difference. I think, as you can see, for the majority of our students who come from Ector and Midland County we want to continue to grow that and enhance that, not only through our FTIC, or first time in college students but also through our transfer program through Midland College and Odessa College.

Woodley said transfers are “a little down” this year.

“But we have quite a few initiatives in place to partner with both Midland College and Odessa College. We’re almost finished with a data sharing agreement that allows us to get more information about the students who might be interested in transferring,” Woodley said. “Then we’ll do a campaign to make sure that they understand about the financial aid opportunities that we have available and kind of working through the different programs. We’re very grateful to both Steve Thomas (MC president) and Greg (Williams, OC president) for working with us.”

She added that UTPB also has articulation agreements that have really been bolstered the last couple of years and they have some innovative programs like OC 2 UTPB on the education side and several in engineering with MC and OC.

“We’ve also been working with Midland College and Odessa College to think about how we may market to the people in the Permian Basin who aren’t considering going to college at all. There are a lot of people here that would benefit from higher education and many of them might be wise to start at the community college and transfer to UTPB, so we’re trying to jointly recruit for all three of our colleges at the same time and to try to really set up programs and initiatives that focus on the needs of that particular student,” Woodley said.

Woodley began her education at a community college and said she wouldn’t have made it without that experience. She went all the way to a doctorate.

“... Not everybody has to start as a freshman in the university to be successful. We would like to increase our freshman class, as of course we’ve been successful at doing, but that’s not mutually exclusive to going out and trying to reach people who might be very well served to start at Midland College or Odessa College ...,” Woodley added.

Another initiative Woodley said they are ramping up is workforce training, certifications and short courses in areas that students will be able to stack into an applied degree.

Within the next year or so, Woodley said she’s expecting an advanced manufacturing center to be launched as part of the business incubator program.

“... One of our aspirations there is to be able to create these short courses and these workforce training courses for anyone, but also if the person decides they want to go on and get a baccalaureate degree they won’t lose that credit. It will count academically toward the degree and we’re early in our stages for this aspiration, but I think it’s the wave of the future here,” Woodley said.

“A lot of people will need to retool and re-skill and not all of them will need a full baccalaureate degree, but we want that option to be available to them as we also serve the workforce needs here in the Basin,” she added.

“We’ve spent the last three years developing a comprehensive enrollment management plan and putting a staff together to make that happen. A lot of hard work from a lot of people. We partnered with Ruffalo Noel Levitz as a consulting firm. They’ve been helping us as well to reach out to students and to develop marketing plans and working on improving financial aid processes and accounting process and all the things that we have to improve to make it easy for students to come,” Woodley added.

She acknowledged that it’s been difficult to recruit students this year because of the pandemic and they were expecting enrollment to be down, but it wasn’t.

“You can’t have orientations and they can’t really come to the campus. It’s hard to see how the reach out is happening, so you have to get really creative and innovative. There’s a lot of uncertainty, even this next year, in the work that we’re doing and what will net,” she said.

Chief of Staff/Executive Director of Communication Tatum Hubbard said one of the things UTPB did really well pre-COVID was online learning.

“We know that graduate students often are in the workplace, so being able to be flexible and offer them courses that are on their schedule,” Hubbard said.

Woodley added that the UT System and UTPB are known for academic quality so it does help them to compete for online students.

Many courses such as the master’s of business administration, special education, education leadership and public administration are popular online courses.

“No. 1, our price is competitive,” she said. “We’re still relatively modestly priced for those graduate and undergraduate online programs, but quality. You get a University of Texas education, so that really helps us to increase that and our goal is to increase the number of online students while at the same time increasing the number of students who are traditionally on the campus.”

Chavez noted that accessibility is key, even in the local area because people can’t necessarily come to campus.

Woodley said UTPB wants the full portfolio of students whether it’s online, non-traditional or just out of high school. When she first arrived at UTPB, Woodley said she wanted to increase the number of traditional college students.

“We want to serve all of the students who could benefit from a UTPB education. It’s both and in our role, so I think what had happened here is maybe there was an imbalance of effort towards the online and the dual credit and not enough attention to the on-campus traditional students, so we really ramped up the enrollment management work for all of it, but very targeted on getting where we needed to be for the traditional students.

Then we wanted to continue to grow the online. We’re still thankful to have over 800 dual credit students. We’ll grow that population as well for the service that it provides to them. We want to do all of it,” Woodley said.

Asked if they found that people decided to stay closer to home this year because of the pandemic, Woodley said they looked at that data, but it wasn’t significantly different from before.

“We already serve mostly the Permian Basin and close surrounding areas and maybe it is true that you have students who decided to stay close to home. Maybe that’s part of the reason. I think that our first time freshmen numbers are up, but I think it’s a number of things that led to that increase,” she said.

Woodley added that the new facilities that have come online also help attract students such as the D. Kirk Edwards Family Human Performance Center and new engineering building in Midland County.

Hubbard said there has been a lot of positive word of mouth, as well, from students who have had positive experiences with the faculty and enjoy the smaller class size.

“You just have to change the perception of what your first-choice university is. We want to be the first-choice university for the people in this area who can get a great education here. ... We have top-notch programs here and a lot to be proud of. As we build that reputation, it will start to help us to achieve that doubling the numbers of people who get a degree here that we’re seeking.”

She said they have 10 years of building and renovation to do to make sure every part of UTPB is at the level of the performance center and engineering building.

“We just need a little bit more money,” Woodley said.

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