NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Stephen F. Austin State University has recorded increased first-time undergraduate enrollment for the third time in three years to 2,117 students.

First-time undergraduates are students attending college for the first time since graduating from high school. Most first-time undergraduates are freshmen, however some have earned a higher initial classification due to dual credit courses taken while in high school and advanced placement credits.

Additionally, fall 2015 first-time, first-year undergraduate retention was an all-time high for SFA at 71 percent, surpassing fall 2014's previous retention record by one percentage point.

During the past five years, SFA has increased first-time, first-year undergraduate retention by 6 percentage points.

"The consistently increasing retention rates are a reflection of varied SFA success initiatives to help students achieve their degree goals," said Monique Cossich, SFA's executive director of enrollment management.

Stricter admissions standards that SFA implemented beginning with the fall 2012 freshmen class further contributed to increased retention rates, according to Cossich.

The first-time undergraduate enrollment increases and higher retention rates further affected total increases in sophomore and junior enrollment for fall 2015.

"After increasing standards in fall 2012 and developing additional student success initiatives, we would expect to see first-time student numbers begin to trend upward," Cossich said. "The historic retention rate indicates we are helping students persist toward graduation."

Overall, the university documented a fall 2015 enrollment of 12,606 students. This figure represents a decrease of 1.5 percent from last fall.

While there are slightly fewer students attending SFA, those enrolled are taking more credit hours, which further illustrates that the university is helping students achieve timely degree completion and supporting state degree completion goals.

Another factor impacting enrollment is the record-breaking graduating classes the university has experienced during the past few years.

"More than 1,300 Lumberjacks received their diplomas at the spring 2015 ceremony, which marked the third consecutive spring graduation to break the 1,300-graduate marker," Cossich said. "We are proud to help students succeed and adding so many Lumberjacks as alumni also helps attract more new students to the university."

According to Cossich, the high graduation rate supports the newly approved Higher Education Strategic Plan for Texas goal to have at least 60 percent of Texans, ages 25-34, complete a higher education degree or certificate by 2030.

SFA also continues to diversify its student population. The census report indicated a 5.2-percent increase in Hispanic student enrollment.

"Our increase in Hispanic students is a direct effect of targeted recruitment efforts and supports the state higher education strategic plan goals," Cossich said.

According to the census report, there are 3,251 freshmen enrolled at SFA, along with 2,318 sophomores, 2,502 juniors and 2,828 seniors, combining for a total undergraduate enrollment of 10,899 students.

The graduate programs in two colleges recorded increases. Graduate headcount in the Nelson Rusche College of Business increased by 19.2 percent, while the College of Fine Arts recorded an 8.3 percent graduate headcount increase. Overall, graduate enrollment at SFA decreased by 70 students from fall 2014 with 1,707 fall 2015 students enrolled in advanced degree programs.

The university also reported the following total headcount enrollments by college: Nelson Rusche College of Business, 1,729; James I. Perkins College of Education, 4,156; College of Fine Arts, 905; Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, 716; College of Liberal and Applied Arts, 2,686; and College of Sciences and Mathematics, 2,414.