Enrollment numbers up for Western, UW-L and Viterbo

Enrollment is rising at La Crosse’s three colleges and universities this year.

Viterbo University’s enrollment growth ends a five-year slide at the university, while the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s numbers show growth from last year, when a drop in enrollment resulted in additional cuts and belt-tightening at the university.

In fall 2010, Viterbo reported 349 first-year students and a total headcount of 3,244, falling last year to 279 first-year students with a 2,677 headcount. Things are beginning to reverse as the university has seen a 10 percent increase in first-year students this fall as well as a more than 30 percent bump in the number of transfer students enrolled.

“We’re trending in the right direction,” Admissions Director Brian Weber said.

A big portion of the new class at Viterbo will be first-generation students, and the university has also worked hard in marketing itself to two-year college students who want to complete a four-year degree. Of the 240 first-year students who answered the question, Weber said 44 percent indicated they would be the first in their family to attend or complete college.

Reaching out to underserved students is a big part of Viterbo and its shared heritage with the Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, who first founded the campus. Viterbo has recently begun offering a college readiness scholarship for students who complete programs such as AVID, which the La Crosse School District adopted in recent years to help at-risk students pursue their college dreams.

This has resulted in Viterbo seeing a 1.3 percent bump in undergraduate enrollment as well as a 3.61 percent bump in on-campus graduate students. Total graduate enrollment is seeing a decline, but Vice President for Academic Affairs and incoming President Glena Temple said several online graduate programs were not counted in this year’s fall enrollment numbers due to when they are offered.

The university’s master of business adminstration program is seeing a more than 12 percent increase in enrollment this year and the educational leadership program saw 10 percent growth. Viterbo’s flagship master of arts in servant leadership program saw a decline this year, with 16 fewer students enrolled in the program, a drop of more than 28 percent.

“In addition to our strong traditional undergraduate enrollment this fall, we continue to see growth in our on-campus and off-campus graduate programs,” Temple said.

Western Technical College’s first-day fall enrollment is down a little from last year’s 4,216, but isn’t an accurate picture of attendance the college serves students year-round. The college is on a trimester system, and so far has enrolled 6,809 students this summer and fall, almost as many as in all three trimesters of 2015 combined.

The positive numbers help keep the college on track for its Vision 2020 goal of serving 10,000 each year by the end of the decade. Western President Lee Rasch is confident the headcount will continue to rise into the spring as the college rolls out new flexible learning sessions.

“I feel really good on that snapshot of enrollment for the year,” Rasch said.

More than 10,540 students were enrolled at UW-L this fall, up 1.3 percent from last year and nearing the record enrollment of 10,558 reported in 2014. Of those students, 2,086 were first-year students, a gain of 32 for the university.

Last year’s enrollment drop of 150 students resulted in the loss of several dozen positions at the university, and last spring administrators predicted additional cuts if enrollment continued to decline. While the number of students attending UW-L has risen, one key demographic, international students, has seen continued declines.

Last year, the international student population declined by 25 percent to 245 students; this year the decline was 28 percent to 177, resulting in nearly half as many international students as two years ago. The university is working to shore up the International Education and Engagement office by hiring a new director and adding two recruiter positions.

Both out-of-state and graduate student enrollment have increased at UW-L. Graduate enrollment was at 818, up 60 students from last year. Graduate and out-of-state students, which includes International students, pay higher tuition and have not been beholden to the state-imposed tuition freeze during the last four years.

“UW-La Crosse was recently recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top-ranked comprehensive universities in the Midwest Region, and our near record enrollment is a reflection of the quality and excellence of UW-L,” Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Bob Hetzel said of the enrollment numbers. “Our university has continued to achieve and maintain such strong enrollment because of the dedication and commitment of our faculty, staff and students.”

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Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

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