Nevada students are banking on UNLV’s ability to prepare them for the future, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic uncertainty.
UNLV’s latest fall enrollment census, released in late September, showed undergraduate enrollment is at a record high — 25,869 bachelor degree-seeking students. This is after the university’s abrupt shift in the spring 2020 semester to remote instruction to curb the spread of COVID-19. Though fall 2020 offered a full slate of courses, only 20 percent were in-person to maintain social distancing.
The enrollment uptick, though slight (about 0.2 percent), speaks volumes about UNLV as a university of choice, particularly for Nevada students who represent slightly over 85 percent of enrollment. It also shows UNLV bucking the trend for universities across the country that have seen drops in enrollment during the pandemic. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center on Sept. 10 released results of its survey of universities, which showed “undergraduate enrollments running 2.5 percent below last year’s level.”
First-Year Applications at All-Time High
Kris Shay, executive director of admissions, attributes UNLV’s ability to attract new students during the pandemic to a well-executed pivot to virtual recruitment activities, as well as a shift in messaging tone to that of compassion for its students rather than the excitement typically conveyed in recruitment.
“We developed virtual information sessions, and increased our outreach to prospective students,” Shay said. “We wanted to let them know first and foremost that UNLV cares, and that we are here for them during these unprecedented times. We connected with them frequently to see how they were coping. And of course, we reached out to parents and family members as well.”
UNLV’s new first-year applications hit a record high at 13,223, a 4 percent increase over 2019.
Chris Heavey, interim executive vice president and provost, said, “Students have demonstrated their faith in us and their optimism that a degree from UNLV is the key to a better future. They are counting on us to equip them with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to tackle the very real challenges we’re facing, locally, nationally, and globally.”
Shay added that through the summer, the admissions team stayed connected with already-admitted students and other specific populations, including students from Hawaii, Honors College students, veterans, and international students.
Retaining and Serving Minority Students
Throughout the pandemic, which has led to waves of layoffs across the Las Vegas Valley, the university has made efforts to mitigate some of the costs of attending UNLV. The university has reduced certain student fees and is working with internet providers to help students without home access get connected at a discounted and subsidized rate for their online courses.
UNLV’s latest enrollment census highlights its diversity and role as a federally designated Minority-Serving Institution, with 65 percent of students identifying as a racial or ethnic minority. The university also holds designations as an Asian-American, Native-American and Pacific Islander-Serving, and Hispanic-Serving institution.
As a result, U.S. News & World Report again ranked UNLV among the most diverse campuses in the country, tied for second on the list with Andrews University in Michigan, just behind the University of Hawaii-Hilo.
Laurel Pritchard, vice provost for undergraduate education, said UNLV has been successful in recruiting and retaining students, despite uncertainty, because of its holistic approach to academics and student life.
“Being a minority-serving institution is about so much more than the demographics of our student body,” she said. “It’s about meeting students where they are so they can learn and thrive. From remote programming offered by the Student Diversity and Social Justice office to virtual tutoring and advising, we have adapted student support systems, and our students have risen to the challenge and persisted.”
This year’s enrollment numbers demonstrate UNLV also is achieving its mission as an access institution for students who represent the first in their families to go to college. The new first-year class is over 50 percent first-generation as defined by neither parent completing at least a four-year degree.
UNLV in recent years has developed programs and initiatives to support students who are breaking the mold within their families and attend college. The Intersection, UNLV’s academic multicultural center, for example puts an emphasis on helping this segment of the student population and celebrates their persistence and grit in pursuing a higher education.
“While some see being first-generation as an obstacle, we in The Intersection view it as an opportunity to soar,” said Harriet Barlow, executive director of The Intersection.