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Students cross the Radford University campus during a class change last month.

Radford University has its highest enrollment numbers ever, while other important benchmarks fail to meet the school’s projections.

Total enrollment for the fall is at 11,780, far surpassing the previous high of 9,928 set in 2013. The increase of approximately 2,500 students over last fall is largely due to the opening of the Radford University Carilion Campus in Roanoke, with 1,046 students, and the IMPACT program, with 2,617 students.

The Roanoke campus was added in the fall after a multiyear process during which Radford University absorbed Jefferson College of Health Science through a partnership with Carilion.

The IMPACT program was announced in September 2017 as a way to increase enrollment and help fill the need for cybersecurity jobs in the state.

Since its inception, IMPACT has “strategically partnered with businesses and organizations to strengthen their workforce in the critical areas of cybersecurity, geospatial intelligence and K-12 teacher professional development,” said university spokeswoman Caitlyn Scaggs.

The program for working professionals is a certificate program, which is 12-18 credit hours, and costs $6,000 for each individual for the 12-month period. A micro credential program is three to four credit hours, and is $1,250 for each student for the 12-month period.

With the relatively new program accounting for nearly 20% of the university’s total enrollment, Scaggs said, the university is “thrilled” with how it’s contributed to the school’s “historical enrollment.”

Although enrollment is up, fall census numbers show that the university is failing to meet its goals in undergraduate enrollment and freshman fall-to-fall retention rates. Undergraduate enrollment has failed to surpass 8,000 students for the second year in a row after surpassing the milestone in all but four years since 2001, according to the university’s website.

Previous projections in the university’s 2018-23 Strategic Plan estimated 8,820 undergraduates for fall 2019. Scaggs wrote in an email that the plan is a “living document” that was recently updated following months of assessment with outside consulting firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz, which focuses on enrollment as one of its specialties. Since working with the consultant, that number has moved down to 8,062.

Scaggs said specific services to Radford University by the firm include on-site consulting sessions, assessments, data analysis, report generation, planning support and implementation support.

Other estimates have been updated as well. Freshman enrollment is currently at 1,651 but was originally projected to be 1,961. The new figures from Ruffalo Noel Levitz projected 1,750, closer to the actual number.

Despite record freshman enrollment at neighboring Virginia Tech, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Policy Analytics Director Tod Massa said that Radford is closer to the norm than VT.

“I would say a number of colleges and universities look to have lower enrollments than anticipated,” he wrote in an email.

Fall-to-fall retention rates — freshmen who make it to their sophomore year — is at 71.3%, much lower than the 78.6% originally projected, but closer to the revised 73.2%. According to university records dating back to 1980, the percentage has never reached 80%.

Massa said that numbers for the current academic year haven’t been finalized, but a 2018 retention report shows that Radford is rated 13th out of Virginia’s 15 public universities, ahead of Norfolk State University and Virginia State University, according to the Council of Higher Education.

RU President Brian Hemphill said at his recent state of the university address that “enrolling and retaining students is our top priority at Radford University.”

Scaggs said that in addition to hiring RNL — which has a contract with the university for $184,000 that started in May and ends in May 2021 — Hemphill held a retention summit in January 2019 with students, faculty and staff to “brainstorm” and discuss retention strategies and how to help students succeed.

The report from the summit has recommendations like engaging more with freshmen from the moment they step on campus and helping them make a road map to graduation at an early stage. Advising students throughout their time in school, including over breaks, was also mentioned in the report.

Scaggs said the university is optimistic about its future.

“As President Hemphill shared in his 2019 State of the University Address, ‘We are strong and positioned for the future — a future that will be defined by our talented students, our world-class faculty, our dedicated staff, our passionate alumni, and our generous supporters!’ ” she wrote in an email.

“Additionally, the President regularly states that retention is everyone’s business at Radford University.”

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