Rapid growth in graduate programs and a focus on engaged learning have led to record enrollment for the University of Lynchburg.
The University has 3,081 students enrolled in the Fall 2018 semester, according to official enrollment reports finalized recently. The previous record for a fall semester was set in 2011, when 2,828 students were enrolled.
University leaders credit the growth to Vision 2020, a strategic plan adopted in 2016 with the goal of becoming a national leader in student engagement. The plan specifically called for integrating high-impact educational practices into the curriculum and also for developing new graduate programs.
“Our vision is to be a national model of student engagement,” Dr. Sally Selden, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said. “Many of our efforts since the adoption of Vision 2020, our strategic plan, have been to cultivate engaging experiences for our students inside and outside the classroom. This enriching academic experience helps students achieve their personal and professional goals.”
Lynchburg leads in engagement indicators
In Spring 2018, the University participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement, a survey that queries students about their academic experiences. The results showed Lynchburg outpacing its peers in several categories.
Lynchburg freshmen from the 2017-2018 academic year reported a highly engaging experience. Lynchburg outpaced comparable institutions in nine out of 10 engagement indicators, including collaborative learning, discussion with diverse others, a supportive environment, student-faculty interaction, and quantitative reasoning. Freshmen also reported higher-than-average rates of planning on high-impact experiences such as study abroad and internships.
“Faculty efforts related to Vision 2020 are having an impact on the freshman student experience,” Dr. Selden said, noting that the percentage of freshmen returning for their sophomore year increased from 75 percent to 79 percent this year.
Meanwhile, seniors reported a much higher rate of having completed high-impact practices. According to NSSE data, Lynchburg seniors were more likely than seniors at peer institutions to have studied abroad, conducted research with faculty, or completed an internship or field experience by graduation.
“These kinds of high-impact practices are transformative,” Dr. Selden said. “We also know how much students and their parents value these experiences. Our faculty have made it a priority to work with students on research projects, supervise internships, arrange off-campus experiences, encourage study abroad and teach courses abroad, and create other enriching experiences for students. This is reflected in our NSSE scores, and should help us continue growing.”
Graduate programs continue expansion
Vision 2020 also established goals for creating new programs that meet the professional development needs of students. It targeted growth in graduate programs to reach 1,000 students. The University is on the verge of reaching that goal.
In the Fall 2018 semester, 995 graduate students are enrolled — an increase from the previous high set in Spring 2018 of 781. “The spring-to-fall growth is significant in that it represented a 31-percent increase from the previous fall term,” Dr. Atul Gupta, dean of graduate studies, said. “It’s another institutional record.”
Most of the graduate enrollment growth results from Lynchburg’s new Doctor of Medical Science, a clinical doctorate for physician assistants. The program’s online option allows PAs to continue working in their practices around the country while taking Lynchburg’s online courses in topics such as leadership, health care law, and research. That program now has more than 340 students enrolled.
New graduate studies initiatives planned for the 2019-2020 academic year include developing online programs for both the Master of Public Health and Master of Criminal Justice programs.
“When we adopted Vision 2020 as our strategic plan, we knew it set ambitious goals for us,” said Dr. Kenneth R. Garren, president of the University of Lynchburg. “However, we have made tremendous strides toward meeting those goals. I thank all our faculty and staff for making the student experience a priority, and for our alumni and others whose philanthropy supports this work.”