Enrollment increase especially needed during budget cut era

Olivia Barfield

Increased enrollment is a win for this university in more ways than one.

News of ULM topping 9,000 students in fall enrollment was sweet at first, but it gets sweeter when you consider it alongside Louisiana’s budget crisis.

With budget cuts still looming over Louisiana’s public universities and tuition costs as high as they have ever been, there’s seemingly nothing the university can do to increase income. However, increased enrollment means more students paying tuition, rather than the same amount of students paying higher tuition.

The university’s enrollment increased by 261 students this year, according to an article posted by ULM News. Even if all these students were in-state, face-to-face (not online), full-time undergraduates, this could bring up to around $1 million more in tuition and required fees for ULM.

This is big for ULM, which took over $3 million in budget cuts last year and now has to depend more than ever on student payments. In June of this year, ULM faced another cut of about $450,000 plus additional mandated costs of $400,000.

In June, before the effect of decreased TOPS on enrollment was known, President Nick Bruno was unsure of whether we would see an enrollment increase or not.

Although the projected student enrollment during fall semester looked “very good,” Bruno considered that TOPS may have a competing impact on the numbers.

For the first time ever, TOPS has not been fully funded over the course of the school year. This semester, TOPS is almost being funded at 100 percent. Next semester, however, students can expect only about a 40 percent coverage of TOPS.

“We do not know what impact changes to the funding of TOPS will have nor will we know until students arrive.  It is possible this will impact our enrollment negatively,” said Bruno in an email to ULM faculty and staff on June 27.

Bruno went on to say that the university was preparing a budget to prepare for a potential enrollment decline due to the potential impact of decreased TOPS funding.

In total, enrollment has risen to 9,115 students from last year’s 8,854.

While seeing more students enter ULM is important, so is keeping them coming back. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue, says ULM News, as retention rates have increased from 58 percent to 66 percent in the first three years that the university has seen growth.

Traditional university students aren’t the only ones increasing their numbers. eULM, the university’s online program for non-traditional students, also increased their enrollment by 58 students. This is an increase of five percent from 1,167 students in 2015 to 1,225 students in 2016.

eULM is currently seeing the most enrollment they’ve ever seen.

eULM’s enrollment increase figures in positively to ULM’s income count as well. eULM students pay for courses by the credit hour, and their bills are usually around the same price as the bill of an on-campus student.

“Every time we can grow our student body, that is a benefit to ULM. We want every student we can get,” Director Paula Thornhill said.

The program, which really took off three years ago according to Thornhill, now regularly receives high rankings and is even recognized as the number one online program in Louisiana by TheBestSchools.org.

The program offers undergraduate, masters and doctorate degrees to students who are mostly in-state, Thornhill said.

Thornhill said there is a large adult learner population  in Louisiana with some college but no degree and that eULM allows them to come back to college and finish their degree.

eULM students qualify for the same scholarships that face-to-face students qualify for.