NACOGDOCHES, Texas — More students are graduating sooner, and more first-year students are persisting in their studies, according to Stephen F. Austin State University’s fall 2022 enrollment numbers and success reports.
Even with a decrease in overall enrollment, the university saw growth among several populations and achieved its highest six-year graduation rate in the university’s history.
At a rate of 53.5%, SFA’s fall 2022 six-year graduation rate has consistently risen over several years and in the past five years alone has increased by approximately 5%. Additionally, the university’s first-time undergraduate retention rate is nearly 3% higher compared to five years ago.
“It is very hard to move the needle on retention and graduation rates,” said Dr. Marc Guidry, SFA associate provost, “but we have been doing it with steady progress for several years now through intentional and proactive advising, a revamped early alert system that reaches out to students early in the semester if they are not attending classes or doing assignments, and high-impact programs that direct resources to at-promise students like Generation Jacks and Aspire.”
SFA’s enrollment for fall 2022 was 11,327, marking a 5% drop from last year’s total. The decrease correlates with a national downward trend in higher education enrollment as universities continue to struggle from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a spring 2022 study from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, postsecondary institutions have lost nearly 1.3 million students since spring 2020 — the brunt of that loss suffered by public institutions.
Despite these figures, administrators say positive progress is being made at SFA in many areas.
“We know the overall enrollment trend nationally is on the decline; however, SFA did have some positive movement forward,” said Rachele’ Garrett, SFA’s interim executive director for enrollment management and Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships director. “For the last two fall semesters, we have seen an increase in our first-year student population. We are also experiencing growth with our admissions and financial aid applications.”
SFA also experienced a spike in dual credit enrollment, which grew by 11% from fall 2020.
“SFA has partnerships with East Texas schools that provide access to core curriculum coursework. Not only are students earning credit toward their high school diploma, but they also are able to complete their bachelor’s degree with SFA much sooner,” Garrett added. “We are encouraged by the growing number of students taking advantage of this program.”
The Micky Elliott College of Fine Arts reported the most significant graduate student headcount increase, with graduate enrollment in the college growing by 18% from the last academic year. Its undergraduate enrollment also grew slightly.
“As of last year, the SFA School of Music offered the only all-online master’s degree in music composition in the country, headed by Dr. Stephen Lias,” said Dr. Gary Wurtz, dean of the college. “With data provided by him, we secured support from SFA Provost Dr. Lorenzo Smith to hire a new faculty composer, allowing us to accept a significant number of new graduate students in an area where we previously had to turn students away.”
Wurtz also attributed the college’s ability to stave off enrollment decline to the “substantial gift to the college by local businessman Bill Elliott last fall. We used earnings from that endowment to offer scholarships to prospective art, theatre, dance and music students, who ultimately chose SFA as their college home.”
In addition to enrollment growth, the Elliott College of Fine Arts also experienced a 14% increase in graduate semester credit hours.
“Ultimately, faculty and staff in the ECFA are dedicated to recruiting,” Wurtz said. “They dedicate numerous hours to visiting high schools, hosting workshops and summer programs, corresponding with prospective students, and more, to promote our programs. There is no shortage of students who want to study the fine arts at SFA, so investing proper resources into scholarships, programs and faculty for this college is a great investment in growth.”
Additionally, SFA’s Hispanic student headcount proportion increased by a percentage point, and international student enrollment rose by more than 12%.
For more information on SFA’s fall enrollment, visit the Office of Institutional Research’s website at sfasu.edu/ir.