Across Nebraska, there has been a steady increase in the number of enrolled undergraduate students at smaller institutions compared to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While there was a 3.6% decrease in undergraduate students between the 2020 and 2021 fall academic semesters at UNL, there was continued positive growth at smaller schools across Nebraska.
According to Abby Freeman, director of admissions at UNL, prospective students are choosing to stay in Nebraska rather than seeking schools out of the state. Choosing to stay in the state will lead to higher enrollment rates at other Nebraska institutions, according to Freeman. At UNL, the number of first-year Nebraska resident students increased 1.1%.
Kevin Halle, director of admissions at Wayne State College, said he finds Wayne State has an appeal to students from rural areas, as well as a good price.
“I find the growth at Wayne State has not been just an appeal for rural versus a more urban setting, but the right programs, at the right price,” Halle said in an email. “Our programs and unique opportunities continue to be attractive to new students among many other strategic initiatives.”
Schools across Nebraska have been increasing opportunities for students, for example Wayne State is offering new academic pathways such as digital film production and theory, sports media and supply chain management, and Peru State is expanding their athletic offerings.
A big contributor to the increase of enrollment across state wide schools, other than UNL, is the large freshman classes entering these institutions. The Nebraska State College System (NSCS), which consists of Chadron State College, Peru State College and Wayne State College, reported a 2% increase in full-time equivalent (FTE), the unit of measurement that indicates the work or class load of an individual and makes it comparable across other contexts.
Wayne State led the NSCS with a freshman class of 801 students this fall and experienced an increase of 384 total students in the past year, according to a news release published by the NSCS.
“The State Colleges listened to their students and continued to prioritize face-to-face instruction, affordability and accessibility,” NSCS Chancellor Paul Turman said in the news release. “The enrollment growth is a testament to the diligent work of the state colleges and their dedicated faculty and staff.”
In response to the growth of other state institutions, Freeman said UNL works to understand the needs of students across the state to help them find their home at UNL.
“It can be a bit overwhelming because you're so far from home, and then the city of Lincoln is very different from other parts of Nebraska, especially those further away,” Freeman said. “So, when they get on campus, we give them a personalized experience. We have them connect with somebody in an academic unit so they can realize, yes, there's a lot of people on this campus, but it's people who care and people who are going to know who they are.”
Freeman said that being a part of the Big Ten allows students to experience energy and spirit that is a part of a large institution but also a really strong academic brand. She also pointed out that UNL is a smaller university compared to other schools within the Big Ten.
“We're one of the smallest of the Big Ten and that actually works to our advantage,” Freeman said. “[Students] get these benefits of a big school, but you have the personal connection of what feels like a much smaller school.”