As students settle in to a new school year, local higher education institutions continue to grow in different ways.
Cape Fear Community College and the University of North Carolina Wilmington, for examples, have expanded offerings, via programs and infrastructure, while enrollment and application rates see the effects of this expansion.
UNCW FOLLOWS ITS LEAD
UNCW has seen a significant increase in applications in the past three years, most recently by 13 percent, said Chancellor Jose Sartarelli.
“Our message of quality and the level of programs is coming through,” he said. “Students are wanting to come to us.”
Sartarelli credits the amount and quality of new programs, particularly graduate and Ph.D. programs, as the reason for this increase in interest. For example, UNCW offers a doctoral nursing practice program with almost 30 students, a Ph.D. in psychology with more than 20 students, and a master’s of family nurse practitioners and nurse educators program, together making a cohort of almost 400 students.
Last year, the university launched a master’s degree in data science and has been approved to begin a coastal engineering program in fall 2019.
The increase in applications, for both undergraduate and graduate programs, likely reflects the top rankings on lists such as U.S. News & World Report’s Best Regional Universities and the Fiske Guide to Colleges.
In a response to this demand, UNCW has seen steadily increasing yearly enrollments.
The UNCW enrollment number had not been finalized as of press time, but Sartarelli said this year’s figure represents an increase of 2 percent. In most years since 2014, however, enrollment has increased by around 5 percent, as reported by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, having neared 16,500 in fall 2017 (14,502 undergraduates and 1,985 graduates). University officials estimate that this year’s student population will cross that 16,500 threshold.
“We’re responding to that demand by adding to our capacity in terms of faculty and staff and adding capacity in terms of facilities,” Sartarelli said about the growth in recent years.
UNCW has hired more than 200 faculty members in the past three years and currently has more than $125 million in buildings under construction on campus, including Veterans Hall.
Veterans Hall, for which construction broke ground in January, will dedicate about 70 percent of its space to the College of Health and Human Services, the fastest-growing college of the university. It will also hold laboratory space for the College of Arts and Sciences, and Warwick Hall’s current Military Resource Center will eventually move there.
“We are expecting we will have it operational and able to serve students in the fall of 2020,” he said.
In addition to Veterans Hall, the university has plans to build four more dormitories that will provide 1,800 new beds, as well as parking spaces or structures. UNCW officials hope to add by the end of the year a staff office building located behind the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. And, finally, the board of trustees approved an extension to the university library, for which they are in planning and design stages.
With plans for new construction, the current $125 million budget will grow to nearly $400 million. “We want to continue growing,” Sartarelli said, “but we want to continue growing with great students and with high-quality students.”
Although CFCC’s enrollment and application rate has steadily declined over the past five years, the college has improved processes, implemented new programs and expanded centers across the tri-county area.
Over the past five years, spring enrollment declined by 6.8 percent and continuing education by 19.5 percent.
Compared to last summer, however, CFCC saw a 9 percent increase this year in the term’s curriculum enrollment, perhaps because of new federal regulations allowing students to receive Pell Grants during summer semesters. This fall’s registration is not yet finalized, but CFCC projects a 2 percent increase compared to 2017.
“Generally speaking, whenever the economy improves, community colleges see a decline in enrollment as more people enter the workforce instead of looking to gain or enhance skills for employment by attending school,” said Sonya Johnson, CFCC director of marketing and communications.
However, CFCC has amplified marketing and reengineered processes to remove enrollment barriers.
Nearly 40 new continuing education programs, including recent 2018 additions such as a graphic design and a power line technician program, have contributed to enrollment stabilization. Many programs have been added as a result of communication with businesses and industries.
“Through our listening sessions we have tailored the curriculum within the programs to fit the skill set demand of business and industry,” Johnson said.
CFCC continues plans to expand and improve its two campuses and two centers. The newest addition, located at the CFFC’s North Campus off Blue Clay Road, opened in June 2017, consisting of three buildings.
Downtown campus construction projects include renovations, totaling more than $9 million worth of work.
The Burgaw Center will expand with the leasing of two additional buildings, and CFCC is working with Pender and New Hanover counties to use county-owned facilities to hold classes.
“We are working to make our programs more accessible to our students,” Johnson said, “by providing the convenience of hosting programs throughout our service area of New Hanover and Pender [counties].”