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Posted on Fri. Sep. 02, 2011 - 12:01 am EDT

Colleges set enrollment records

Growth attributed to strong academics, weak economy

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FORT WAYNE — Area colleges and universities are reporting larger enrollments this fall, with many touting record-breaking surges for a second consecutive year.

IPFW, the University of Saint Francis and Manchester College have all broken enrollment records, according to officials from the respective schools. Other area colleges say they expect to see similar trends when their enrollments become final in coming days.

University officials attribute the growth to a range of factors, including strong degree programs, the economy and a state push to encourage college attendance.

IPFW, which has experienced a decade of growth, broke enrollment records for the sixth straight year. The university enrolled 14,326 students, an increase of 0.9 percent from the 14,192 enrolled last fall. Total minority student enrollment also set a record at 2,273, an increase of 6.3 percent from last year.

Although total enrollment was down slightly at the time of the university’s fall convocation last week, officials said a steady stream of high school students taking college-level courses brought the numbers up, as did a number of students who started school elsewhere and decided to transfer.

Mark Franke, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management, attributed the enrollment surge to an increase of high school students taking college courses, expanding housing options on campus and an array of strong academic offerings.

During a tough economy, he said, IPFW’s relatively low tuition might also play a role in attracting students. IPFW’s in-state students pay $248 per credit hour.

The University of Saint Francis broke records for the second year in a row, enrolling 2,381 students this fall and welcoming 799 freshmen – the largest class in the school’s history. Last year, the school’s enrollment was 2,350.

“We believe that our record enrollment numbers this fall are indicative of the university’s reputation for academic excellence and dedication to a positive and meaningful experience for all of our students,” Sister Elise Kriss, president, said in a prepared statement.

Officials said Manchester College has surpassed its strategic enrollment goal, starting classes Wednesday with more than 1,300 students – the highest enrollment since the Vietnam War era.

Last fall, the college enrolled 1,278 students.

Dave McFadden, Manchester’s executive vice president, attributed the surge largely to the school’s strong science programs and to a future pharmacy school that is sparking interest in incoming students.

Since fall 2007, he said, enrollment at the college has grown 27 percent.

Indiana Tech officials, who plan to release official numbers next week, said they expect record high enrollment numbers and a record high number of new students.

Defiance College hasn’t released its numbers yet, but officials said they expect to see the largest class in the school’s history.

Statewide, Ivy Tech broke records by enrolling more than 113,000 students this fall. First-day enrollment at Ivy Tech Northeast, however, was down 1 percent at 11,705. Ivy Tech officials, however, said they are continuing to enroll students.

Huntington University officials could not be reached for comment.

McFadden, at Manchester, said he believes there are several factors contributing to the enrollment boosts at many northeast Indiana colleges.

In economic rough patches, he said, high school graduates who might otherwise go straight into the workforce head to college in hopes of increasing their job prospects.

Adults, he said, also tend to go back to school during economic downturns.

McFadden also credited the Commission for Higher Education for promoting initiatives that help make college a reality for more students.

“The state of Indiana has been working very hard to increase the number of high school graduates going to college,” he said.

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