Enrollment increased 4% for the fall semester at Fort Lewis College, halting a multiyear slide in student numbers that had pinched school budgets.
Fall enrollment came in at 3,443 compared with 3,308 for fall 2019. Undergraduate enrollment is 3,349 for fall compared with 3,229 for fall 2019. Graduate enrollment is 94 for fall 2020 compared with 79 for fall 2019.
“One of the things that’s so exciting about this is it’s up across multiple categories, up in local students, up in transfer students, first-year class has more Colorado residents than we’ve had for quite a long time. So I think the work by our faculty and staff to build connections with local schools has really paid off,” said FLC President Tom Stritikus.
Native American student numbers continue to rise. Native Americans make up 45% of the students on campus for the fall semester compared with 41% for fall 2019.
FLC offers tuition waivers to Native American students based on a 1910 agreement with the federal government in which the federal government turned over the old Fort Lewis property in Hesperus, where the school was previously located, in exchange for the tuition-free admission of Native American students.
Students of color also constitute a majority of the student body, making up 57% of all students. In fall 2019, students of color made up 53% of all students.
Lauren Savage, FLC spokeswoman, said a big factor in increasing the student numbers on campus was improved retention of existing students. Retention of students increased from 62% in fall 2019 to 68% in fall 2020.
Stritikus said, “A lot of people think of enrollment as just who’s coming in the door. This is also a story about who’s staying. And the fact that our retention rates, particularly with Native American and Latino students, have increased is a real testament to the hard work of the faculty and staff and all of our efforts around student success – putting students at the center of everything we do.”
Savage said FLC’s retention of Native American students increased to 67% in fall 2020 compared with 57% in fall 2019. For Latino students, retention increased to 69% in fall 2020 from 58% in fall 2019.
Fall 2020 enrollment increased compared with fall 2019 in several other areas as well, including continuing students, up 1.3%; first-year students, up 6.8%; and transfer students, up 7.5%, she said.
“There was a lot of uncertainty around what this fall would look like for higher ed,” Savage said. “If anything, the pandemic has emphasized the best parts of FLC, small class sizes, personal relationships faculty and staff foster with students, and a prevailing sense of community.”
Over the past year, FLC has revamped the first-year experience of entering students, including First Year Launch Courses, or FLC 101, courses designed to inspire intellectual curiosity and to build relationships between professors and students by allowing professors to follow their passions in designing First Year Launch Courses.
Topics for First Year Launch Courses last year included “The Environmental Geography of Guitars,” “Identity Awareness Becoming You,” “Queer Culture 1069 to 2019” and “The Seas of Purgatory.”
The school also took measures to simplify the bureaucratic challenge facing students, consolidating student services into one place, Skyhawk Station.
“I think of the stuff that we launched a year ago – the first-year experience course, the centralizing of student services – they work on trying to create a real sense of well-being and belonging on campus,” Stritikus said. “Those initiatives, and the hard work of the faculty and staff associated with those initiatives are starting to pay off.”
Faculty was tapped to aid recruitment – calling prospective students and their parents in an effort to persuade students to enroll. An emphasis was placed on Colorado and regional students, especially Western Slope students.
FLC saw an increase of 8.6% in first-year students from Colorado.
“We want to be a first-stop destination for regional students,” Stritikus said. “We want students locally, and really from the entire Western Slope to see us as their best option.”
Stritikus said the effort expended to boost 2020 enrollment will likely need to be matched in future years, especially with COVID-19 weighing on many graduating high school students who are looking to take a gap year or to stay close to home for college.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint. And we absolutely need to continue to stay focused on all these initiatives, make adjustments,” he said. “We still don’t know what this COVID year will do to next year. But, you know I’d rather be ahead than start out behind.”
[email protected] This article has been updated to more accurately describe Fort Lewis College’s tuition waiver.