A few years ago, higher education pundits who spend their time pontificating about trends in the industry were concerned about an oncoming crisis. Based on demographic data, overall enrollment in higher education was headed for a sharp drop, they declared, something that became known as the approaching higher ed enrollment “cliff.”
Pretty sobering stuff for those of us in academia, no doubt. Here at The Woods, we are aware of such trends, and know that it will take hard work, innovation and a relentless commitment to the overall student experience to ensure our institution can withstand such challenges. Which is why the way we began the current Fall semester – reaching new heights in enrollment – is so promising.
Amidst all the normal excitement and anticipation that accompanies the first week of Fall semester classes last week, we added a startling measure of our strength and vitality as a University – our 2023 incoming class of new undergraduate students is the largest in the 153-year history of William Woods! And when you take our 456 new students who enrolled (including 298 residential and 158 online students) and couple that class with our strong increase in incoming students from last Fall, new undergraduate student enrollment in 2022 and 2023 now also constitutes the largest two-year growth period in William Woods history.
Maybe that’s why no less than the Chronicle of Higher Education, the national higher education “paper of record,” chose to highlight William Woods among other small colleges nationally that are making all the right moves to thrive, in a report entitled “Surviving As A Small College.”(https://news.williamwoods.edu/national-recognition-university-featured-in-the-higher-education-paper-of-record-for-the-second-time-in-2023/). It was the second time we have been recognized by the Chronicle this year (first for our focus on student experience), with previous recognition occurring in back in 2000 (then for our LEAD program).
So all of these numbers and recognition raise the question – how do some universities not only stay healthy, but thrive, in today’s environment? The answer can be found right here at The Woods, not only by examining what we have done consistently for the past decades, but by considering what we did just this year!
The Owls have done some remarkable things this year. This includes establishing our first-ever Ph.D. program in University history. Or dramatically increasing our online course offerings to working professionals through Woods Global. Or by significantly adding to our athletic department through the addition of seven new intercollegiate sports, highlighted by the historic establishment of football, also for the first time in University history.
These are merely the latest examples of how we have always done it here at William Woods. To do more than just survive and truly thrive as an institution like ours, it takes innovation, boldness and thinking ahead. It is what we have done in our past, like adding online and graduate-level courses long before many institutions like us would even entertain the thought. Or in our present, offering unique, national-acclaimed degree programs like Equestrian Studies and American Sign Language, or others that set us apart like Cybersecurity and the Show-Me GOLD program.
The fact that our enrollment is growing in this challenging era we find ourselves in today is simply no accident. We will always be looking for that next big idea, program, innovation or policy that makes William Woods University the best possible environment for our students to receive a quality, unique, well-rounded college education.
Happy new semester!