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West Virginia University at Parkersburg sees boost in fall enrollment

PARKERSBURG — West Virginia University at Parkersburg will see a significant increase in enrollment for the fall semester, officials said.

School officials are anticipating a 24 percent increase in enrollment as the school has increased its efforts to retain students and attract new students.

“The recruitment staff played a vital role in increasing the new student enrollment numbers,” Steven Smith, vice president of enrollment management, said. “Prior to the pandemic, we were very intentional about increasing the number of applicants and cultivating that population to ensure enrollment growth.”

Continuing traditional student enrollment is up 1 percent, further showing an effort to retain students despite the pandemic, university officials said. Final summer 2020 enrollment also showed a 10 percent increase over summer 2019.

“Enrollment is up,” Smith said. “What we did last year was to be very intentional about increasing the number of applications.

“The more applications you have, the stronger chance you will have applicants who will actually complete the process and actually enroll in the institution.”

That was a focus of the university before the pandemic hit, Smith said.

“It has always been my philosophy that when you are recruiting, you associate, you advocate and you communicate then you cultivate and usually the students will matriculate if you do all of those things well,” he said. “We really not only looked at our seven-county service area in West Virginia, we also looked at Ohio and increased our presence and increased our numbers there as well.

“We saw all of that was very beneficial as well.”

WVU-P has also increased its marketing efforts throughout the local community to reach students in a different way, said Torie Jackson, the college’s vice president for institutional advancement.

“We feel that message has been well received,” she said.

WVU-P is offering most of its courses for the fall semester in a technology-enabled instructional environment, Jackson said.

“Still, about 25 percent of classes have some hands-on, face-to-face component,” she said. “Around 75 percent have moved to a more virtual realm. That doesn’t mean it is just online. What it means is our faculty has undergone Zoom training and they are able to conduct their classes at the same day and time they would have normally, but they are able to do it through video.

“They are still seeing their students and talking to their students in real time. That seems to be a good connection with students and it seems to have been well received by students at this point in time,” she said.

The university also opened Zoom rooms and computer labs for students, recognizing access to Internet in rural areas is among the primary challenges of virtual instruction.

Many of the in-person classes still operating as usual are primarily in the technical programs such as welding, and for some science, healthcare, and education programs which have lab and field experiences.

“For those still on campus, we are practicing social distancing, we are requiring masks and we are limiting the number of people in the building at any one time,” Jackson said. “That is being done for everyone’s safety.

“I think that is appealing to some people who are worried about the pandemic.”

WVU-P adjusted expenditures to keep tuition at the same affordable level for the 2020-2021 academic year, declining to implement an approved 5 percent tuition increase.

“We remain affordable,” Smith said. “We did not increase tuition because of the pandemic.”

The affordability and the quality of the education received at the university also played a roll in what they are seeing, he said.

One section of enrollment that is not yet calculated into fall totals is the early college/dual credit population, Jackson said. Many of those are high school students who will be taking college level courses.

While those efforts were effective in bringing in over 550 students, more registrations are expected in the near future once high schools are back in session next week.

“We can’t give the final numbers yet, but we do know with our regular student population that we do have an increase (in enrollment),” Jackson said. “We are expecting to sign up more (early college) students once we are able to see them and have them fill out the paperwork. This collaboration with our local school districts to provide higher education opportunities to high school students is essential and must be continued, which is why WVU Parkersburg devotes extra energy to ensure its success.”

Smith said this continues to be an unusual year as the university continues to deal with the impacts of the pandemic, but is also continually looking at growth in the future.

“We are working different strategies to make sure we continue what we started this year,” he said. “We want our students and our population to know that WVU-P will be looking at the same goals next year and that is to increase student enrollment as well.”

Contact Brett Dunlap at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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