As universities across the country face declining enrollment, amplified by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Shippensburg University is a standout among the trend, reporting increases in both enrollment and retention. 

The current enrollment represents a 0.6 percent increase from fall 2019 with a 0.8 percent increase reported for undergraduate students. While an increase in enrollment is an encouraging trend, Ship has also demonstrated a 2.3 percent increase in retention over the previous year, and a 6 percent increase in retention over the previous three years, a strong signal that the ongoing commitment to student success is deepening the reputation of the university as a “student first” institution.

Ship’s official fall 2020 enrollment stands at 6,130 total students, the official count taken on the 15th day of classes, the date used for national and state reporting. This represents 804 graduate students and 5,326 undergraduate students.

The robust complement of retention-targeted initiatives include a First-Year-Experience program, a comprehensive one-stop Student Success Center, and programs for first-generation students. The initiatives incorporated programs such as concerted calling and email campaigns to students. This direct connection helped students overcome enrollment barriers like financial help where there were gaps in financial aid, textbook scholarships, and transportation issues. When the pandemic hit, the touchpoints were ramped up through a holistic “Early Alert system” to ensure dedicated coaching staff could work with students one-on-one to assist with their unique challenges during the time of COVID-19, such as adjusting to transitions with technology and pedagogy .  

During the previous academic year, the university expanded its marketing presence into new territories, focused its messaging with the capital district, and a launched a 49 states, one tuition plan supported by a robust out-of-state campaign that created Destination Shippensburg as its theme. Additionally, a pre-COVID commitment to marketing online programs has worked to fill three online-exclusive graduate programs in Business Administration, Criminal Justice and Applied Psychology. Ship offers nearly 250 rigorous academic programs ensuring that the needs of south central Pennsylvania are met head on.  

“We worked extremely hard to transition our students during the spring 2020 pandemic-driven closure, and invested deeply in the tools, talent, and technology to reopen this fall,” said President Laurie A. Carter. “I am grateful to the faculty and staff who have not wavered in their commitment to student success. I am humbled by the students and families who have maintained their studies or may have joined us this year as new members of the Raider family. Our increases in enrollment and retention are a rewarding affirmation of the high-quality Ship experience and education and speaks to our ability to work together during this challenging time. We may be teaching and learning differently, but student success, health and well-being remains our priority.”

The university also made very intentional commitments to student success and recruitment. This included the launch of a virtual tour, the restructuring of the website, and implementing a parent portal to keep the conversations and commitments moving forward.  

Ship’s investment in reopening for fall 2020 was directly driven by the express wishes of the student body. This included robust training on new OWL technologies to create a HyFlex learning model to best integrate different learning modalities, plus a Navigating Fall 2020 website and Raider Respect pledge to ensure that everyone was aware of the herculean efforts made to create a COVID-ready on-campus learning environment, and what everyone’s responsibility is in keeping campus open. With student success and COVID-19 mitigation at the forefront of this decision, the mighty Ship is navigating forward with a tangible commitment to student success, and the support of the community is the winds in the sails. 

“We are excited that the efforts and commitment of many are instilling confidence in a Ship education, and that students are not only choosing Ship, but finding the support they need to achieve their academic goals,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tom Ormond.