Overall enrollment at the University of Colorado is nearly even with last year, but preliminary figures show a slight dip in the number of graduate students, a possible result of a better economy and concerns about sequestration affecting research funding.
CU officials estimate total enrollment to be 29,660, down 0.6 percent over the same time last year. More accurate data will be available following the campus census later this month, and spokeswoman Malinda Miller-Huey said the school is forecasting enrollment to be even closer to last year's figure.
CU officials more aggressively recruited new freshmen this year, and their efforts appeared to have paid off. The school estimates 5,789 students are in the freshman class, a 6 percent increase over last year.
"CU was my only choice," said CU freshman Tanner Coon, of Aurora.
Coon, who is studying computer and electrical engineering, said he found CU's program to be the best in the state -- and while he considered the Colorado School of Mines, he never applied. Coon is also earning a $3,400-a-year academic grant to help buy down his tuition.
Last year, CU officials were surprised by a drop in the number of incoming freshmen and linked the trend to more out-of-state schools cherrypicking some of Colorado's brightest students and offering them competitive financial aid packages. Combined with more non-resident students switching to in-state status for lower tuition rates, the enrollment trends triggered an $11.5 million budget shortfall.
In response, CU stepped up recruiting and began offering more generous scholarships. Faculty members, deans and department chairs wrote letters to potential students.
"This year was a tremendous collaborative effort by members of the faculty, staff and administration," said admissions director Kevin MacLennan.
While the freshman class is roughly 317 students larger than last year's, overall enrollment remains relatively flat for a couple of reasons, Miller-Huey said. In 2008, CU hit record highs when its freshman class totaled 5,833, and many of those students have since graduated. Also, CU expects about 200 fewer graduate students compared with last year, when there were 5,086 graduate students. In fall 2011, graduate enrollment totaled 5,127, according to CU statistics.
Miller-Huey said the school is looking into any patterns -- such as sequestration -- that could be affecting graduate enrollment. She said school officials have also heard anecdotes about would-be graduate students entering the workforce instead because of better job prospects.
Higher-education officials across the country are uncertain what effects sequestration could be having on graduate programs, but there's some speculation that departments are hesitant to bring students on board if they're leery of spending cuts to federal research budgets.
The Council of Graduate Schools is expected to release its national graduate school enrollment figures later this week. The numbers, though, are based on 2011-2012 enrollment data at colleges across the country.
Julia Kent, a spokeswoman for the council, said in past years there have been small declines in the number of first-year graduate students in U.S. programs.
The most recent publicly available data from the Council of Graduate Schools showed schools saw a 1.7 percent dip in enrollment of first-time graduate students between fall 2010 and fall 2011.
"What we have seen is that international enrollment has been going up, while domestic enrollment is going down," she said. "This has resulted in small declines in first-time graduate enrollment."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or email@example.com.