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UC projects 8th straight year of record enrollment 

Despite pandemic, University of Cincinnati returns with more students than ever

Though in the midst of one of the most challenging periods in the history of higher education, the University of Cincinnati will start the new academic year with its eighth consecutive year of record-breaking enrollment.

On Monday, Aug. 24, UC will begin the fall semester with a carefully considered blend of online and in-person instruction for more than 46,400 students. That number marks a string of enrollment records for the Bearcats dating back to fall 2013 and equates to an 11% increase over the last decade.

While a slight incease from last year's all-time high — at 46,388 — the achievement is even more remarkable given state and national trends where the majority of colleges and universities are reporting, projecting or anticipating significant enrollment declines.

Drummers from the UC brand practice in masks

Members of the UC Band percussion section practice in masks. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

Historic effort

Retaining students in the face of a pandemic was a massive effort and accomplishment, says Jack Miner, UC’s vice provost for enrollment management.

“Throughout the last few months, the national headlines have talked about how COVID was going to be so disruptive to fall enrollment,” says Miner. “Across the country, colleges are expecting significant drops in enrollment, so the fact that we are growing is really a phenomenal place to be.”

Across the country, colleges are expecting significant drops in enrollment, so the fact that we are growing is really a phenomenal place to be.

Jack Miner, vice provost for enrollment management

Jack Miner, vice provost for enrollment management

Jack Miner, vice provost for enrollment management

Some schools, he says, are seeing as many as 40% of expected first-year students who are taking a gap year, yet UC is on track to equal its first-year class size from last fall. 

UC increased enrollment numbers this fall despite the need to reimagine nearly every aspect of its operation beginning in the middle of March when the coronavirus forced students, faculty and most staff to leave campus and shift to remote learning. UC’s success in doing so was evident in the all-time record enrollment of the summer 2020 term.

Summer set the stage, and now, more students are transferring to UC, which already draws heavily from the Cincinnati area.

“We are seeing a lot of students who are coming to UC who may have been attending another school and decided to stay in the Cincinnati area,” says Miner. “COVID has allowed people to reflect on the importance of staying close to home and staying near to their families.”

8 Years of enrollment records

  • 2020 — 46,400 + (projected)
  • 2019 — 46,388

  • 2018 — 45,949

  • 2017 — 44,783
  • 
2016 — 44,338

  • 2015 — 44,251
  • 2014 — 43,691
  • 
2013 — 42,656

What was key?

As they planned for the return to school, UC leaders resisted the temptation to develop a one-size-fits-all response to the pandemic and instead encouraged each college and program to develop individualized solutions for each population of students. 

Developing those plans assured incoming and returning students that they could remain on track toward their degree. UC’s unique diversity of degree programs required the tailored approach, according to leaders.

“The way we are responding for a humanities student is completely different from the way we are responding for a College-Conservatory of Music student or a Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning student,” says Miner. “We are the only university in the area with a law college, a medical college, a music conservatory and a design and art school. Responding differently by program and discipline really set us apart.”

Miner says that throughout the pandemic UC has held tightly to the principles behind the “Bearcat Promise,” a significant element of UC’s Next Lives Here strategic direction in which the university ensures students will graduate on time with not only a degree but also a defined career path. 

UC fourth year student Tess Chaffee wears a mask for protection from COVID-19 on campus

The UC community, such as fourth-year student Tess Chaffee, will return to campus under extremely different circumstances in 2020 with mask requirements, social distancing and more. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

UC student signs while wearing a mask

ASL instructor Arriana Bedgood signs while wearing a facial covering on campus. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

UC student wears mask while working in UC's Novel Device Lab

Doctoral student Zach Watkins wears a mask while working in UC's Novel Device Lab. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

Returning to campus safely

University leaders, faculty and staff have spent months developing its return-to-campus plan, preparing the physical spaces to host students safely and making significant changes in order to protect the health of the campus community.

UC President Neville Pinto

UC President Neville Pinto

“Every step, we have been monitoring the virus, engaging with state and local officials and learning from our medical experts in the Academic Health Center,” says UC President Neville Pinto. “All of us have a vital role to play in protecting the health and safety of ourselves and those around us. That necessarily means washing hands, wearing facial coverings, physical distancing, staying home when sick, self-reporting COVID-19 symptoms and not becoming complacent about the need to protect one another.

“Until we know enhanced health and safety measures are no longer needed, we will continue to err on the side of caution in protecting our campus community.”

Until we know enhanced health and safety measures are no longer needed, we will continue to err on the side of caution in protecting our campus community.

UC President Neville Pinto

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/c7pJ4N4fua4?rel=0

Among the changes, UC has implemented physical distancing in classrooms, labs and public spaces and will conclude face-to-face instruction early by Thanksgiving break to reduce risks. Read UC's complete return-to-campus guide.

“We are taking preventive measures to make sure that students, faculty and staff are safe and taken care of,” says Vice Provost Christopher Lewis, who is also a family physician. “We certainly want to make sure that our students are learning and excelling and creating knowledge. And all of those things are important, but nothing is more important at the University of Cincinnati than the health, safety and well-being of our Bearcat community.”

… nothing is more important at the University of Cincinnati than the health, safety and well-being of our Bearcat community.

Christopher Lewis, vice provost and family physician

A UC student crosses the main atrium of UC's Lindner College of Business.

A UC student crosses the atrium of UC's Carl H. Lindner College of Business. UC employees have worked since spring to prepare the campus for students to return, including marking socially distanced spacing on furniture in common areas. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

Hand sanitizer station inside Tangeman University Center

The UC community can refill personal hand sanitizer bottles at refill stations such as this one inside Tangeman University Center.

Chairs in atrium of Tangemen University Center

Chairs inside UC's student union are spaced carefully to allow at least six feet of space between each person. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

20 years online

Importantly, UC’s record enrollment of this past summer was achieved even while courses had moved to online only. The popularity through summer was “an endorsement of the quality of the online instruction and a testament to the fact that UC and our faculty have been national leaders in delivering first-class online courses for 20 years now,” says Miner.

He points out that enrollment in UC Online, the university’s platform for fully online education, has surged by 14% for fall semester over the same time last year, an indication that the pandemic has allowed more working adults the opportunity to return to the university to complete their degrees.

Commitment to co-op

UC student in a studio wearing a mask

DAAP student Vidushi Shrivastava works in the 1819 Makerspace. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

As the global founder of cooperative education, UC outpaces national rivals on performance indicators that are very important to students and their families — specifically UC’s national No. 3 ranking for co-ops and internships, outranking schools like MIT, Duke and Stanford. Among public universities, UC is No. 1 for co-ops and internships in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings. UC students earn a collective $75 million annually working for about 1,300 international employers via their co-op work placements, alternating academic semesters with professional, paid work directly tied to their majors.

UC has maintained its commitment to co-op and experiential learning during the pandemic. Even before recent events, UC had founded the Remote Work Center a year ago, anticipating and tapping into trends related to an online work environment. 

“Even before the pandemic, we recognized and anticipated that work needs would increasingly rely on virtual or hybrid semi-virtual environments,” says Gisela Escoe, dean, Division of Experience-based Learning and Career Education. “That foresight is allowing us to quickly expand capacity on a foundation that already existed. And we expect that progression will continue even after current events pass.”

When the pandemic hit, UC started working with employers to determine ways students could continue to work safely or continue to co-op remotely. As a result, UC is still seeing a high percent placement rate for its co-op students.

Even before the pandemic, we recognized and anticipated that work needs would increasingly rely on virtual or hybrid semi-virtual environments.

Gesela Escoe, dean of Experience-based Learning and Career Education

Strong international numbers

UC has also remained steady in terms of its population of international students.



“This is an area where many schools have really seen a big decrease,” says Miner. He points to UC’s efforts to work directly with its international population for months now to be sure they were making academic progress toward their degrees and helping them enroll online. Also, he points out that the Bearcats Everywhere scholarship provided international students financial assistance.

For Miner and UC’s enrollment team, there’s no time to slow the recruitment efforts, and they’re already focused on recruiting the fall 2021 class.

LINK: UC's College of Medicine returned to campus early on Aug. 10

Impact Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati is leading public urban universities into a new era of innovation and impact. Our faculty, staff and students are saving lives, changing outcomes and bending the future in our city's direction. Next Lives Here.

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