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FAYETTEVILLE -- Preliminary enrollment data showed growth for some of the state's largest universities but also declines in a few key areas.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville announced an incoming freshman class of 5,065 students, the first year for the state's largest university to enroll more than 5,000 degree-seeking first-year students.

Slightly less than half of the freshman class, 49 percent, are from Arkansas, the same percentage as in the freshman class in fall 2016, according to UA data.

Out-of-state students fueled enrollment increases in recent years, but while the total number of students increased by 1.3 percent, the school's top administrator described a slowing growth rate.

"This is the type of controlled, quality growth that we are striving for here at the University of Arkansas," Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said in a statement.

UA enrolled 27,558 total students this fall based on preliminary data, up from 27,194 a year earlier.

Steinmetz told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the university's plan is based on balancing in-state and out-of-state students, as well as recruiting for diversity "across the state."

He said there's an upper limit to growth.

The campus may increase enrollment "over an extended period of time" to 30,000 students, Steinmetz said.

More students would provide additional tuition revenue, Steinmetz said, "but at some point we just have to admit that we've hit that plateau and figure out how we're going to fund the place."

He described state funding as "flat," and tuition cannot be raised in the same way as in the past 20 years. Philanthropy and better partnerships with industry will be among ways to possibly pay for university operations, he said.

"In my opinion, there has to be a whole new model for how we fund higher education, not only here at the University of Arkansas, but I think really across the country," Steinmetz said.

While undergraduate students increased, graduate enrollment fell by 2.7 percent, according to UA.

The university enrolled 4,161 graduate students this fall, down from 4,275 a year earlier. Strengthening graduate education is one of the stated priorities for the university under Steinmetz, who took over as chancellor in January 2016.

"We do have the desire to grow graduate-level programming because it hasn't kept up with the other part of the university," Steinmetz said, adding that he wants to look further into the details of why graduate enrollment declined.

Arkansas State University reported 1,427 first-year students. According to the state Department of Higher Education, the university's Jonesboro campus a year earlier enrolled 1,644 first-time entering students.

Overall enrollment, including ASU's new Campus Queretaro in Mexico, totaled 14,125, up from 14,085 a year earlier. The total includes 209 students at the Mexico campus, ASU spokesman Bill Smith said in an email.

Undergraduates at the Jonesboro campus totaled 9,580, Smith said.

Kelly Damphousse, the Jonesboro campus's chancellor since July 1, said in a statement that the school "must recognize that the number of traditional incoming first-year students declined, and this is a problem we need to address."

Arkansas State University reported a rise in graduate students, with enrollment setting a record at 4,336 students compared with last year's 4,246.

Arkansas State University also reported a decrease in international undergraduate students, with the enrollment falling to 34 first-year international students compared with 124 a year earlier. UA did not break down international enrollments by incoming first-year students, but reported a total 1,461 international students this fall compared with 1,466 a year earlier.

Arkansas Tech University reported 1,561 freshmen enrolled at its Russellville campus. A year ago, the university announced 1,591 freshmen on the Russellville campus, according to a statement published online.

Arkansas Tech reported a total enrollment of 11,801 students at its Russellville and Ozark campuses.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock enrolled 1,325 degree-seeking freshmen this fall, down from 1,564 degree-seeking freshmen a year earlier, Judy Williams, the university's associate vice chancellor for communications and marketing, said in an email.

Undergraduate enrollment dropped to 7,384 from 7,720 a year earlier, according to university data. Graduate and law school enrollment increased to 2,301 from 2,291 last fall, according to UALR. The school reported total enrollment of 11,625, down from 11,665.

Andrew Rogerson, UALR's chancellor since last fall, said the school's enrollment has been declining over several years but vowed that things will change.

"We know we're going to stem this decline," said Rogerson, adding, "we will see this turn around by the fall of 2018."

He said the smaller incoming class in part "speaks to holding to higher standards" when it comes to admissions, explaining that he's more concerned with boosting the retention rate for students than increasing the size of UALR's freshman class.

"We're really wanting to get the right students in, to give them all the chance to succeed," he said.

The University of Central Arkansas in Conway announced first-time undergraduate enrollment of 1,937 students. The total was an increase from what the state Department of Higher Education reported as 1,880 first-time entering students a year earlier.

UCA reported a total enrollment of 11,350.

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith reported an increase in its freshman class. Compared with state data, first-year enrollment of 1,105 students marks the first such increase since fall 2013.

UAFS also reported 6,619 undergraduate and 18 graduate students, up from 6,582 undergraduate and 15 graduate students last year, according to school data.

Among other schools announcing preliminary enrollment, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia reported 870 freshmen. Data from the state Department of Higher Education show that the school enrolled 854 "first-time entering" students in fall 2016.

Southern Arkansas University reported a total undergraduate enrollment of approximately 3,450.

Metro on 09/10/2017

Print Headline: In new high, UA freshmen number 5,065

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