University Bucks Nation Trend, Overall Enrollment Up
Widener University this fall welcomed the largest freshman class in the 192-year history of the institution, with 827 freshmen enrolled. In addition to being the largest ever freshman class, it also has the best academic profile, boasting the highest average SAT score and grade point average on record at the university. Widener’s previous largest freshman class was 782 in 2007.
The overall university enrollment is also up, bucking a national trend reported earlier this month by the U.S. Census Bureau that showed that college enrollment nationwide plunged last fall after several years of significant growth. The university’s overall enrollment is up one percent from 6,238 in 2012 to 6,311 in 2013.
Widener University President James T. Harris III attributed the largest freshman class and overall enrollment increase to a number of factors including the university’s growing national reputation in civic engagement, leadership development and academics.
“We have also introduced new majors such as biomedical engineering and informatics that are in demand,” Harris said. “In addition, we have made a strong commitment to increasing financial aid and invested more than $150 million in infrastructure over the past decade, including a state-of-the-art building for our School of Nursing and a new building for communication studies, computer science and informatics that opened this fall. It’s an exciting time to be at Widener.”
Last fall, the university made the decision to dedicate 100 percent of the contributions to its annual fund to student financial aid. Before that decision, the university had already doubled the amount of institutional financial aid available to students over the past 10 years.
In addition to focusing on increasing financial aid, Widener’s efforts to improve student retention, including new software to track students’ academic progress and identify potential issues, have paid dividends. Seventy-five percent of the university’s freshman from last year returned for their sophomore year this fall, up four percent over 2012. Increased retention typically translates into a higher graduation rate.
The overall enrollment increase came despite a continuing downtown in enrollment in law schools nationwide which has had an impact on the Widener School of Law. Law enrollment at the Delaware and Harrisburg campuses was down 15 percent over last year.