New enrollment numbers broke records at the University of North Alabama this fall. The university now serves 8,046 students as opposed to the 7,650 students enrolled during fall 2018. Across the nation, overall college enrollment has declined for the past eight years. “We are very pleased to have across the board growth which is very atypical,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Dr. Ross Alexander. “First off, not many universities in the state or region are growing. We are, and that’s a point of pride for us.” The largest growth comes from first time full-time freshmen, new international students, and online graduate students. “We are up in terms of first time full time freshmen, which is in this environment, it is definitely something to celebrate and a point of pride,” Dr. Alexander said. “There’s a declining number of high school graduates in the state and the region and increasing competition to get them so we had about a two and a half increase in first time, full-time freshman.” Since the university requires freshmen to live on campus, growth has also occurred in the residence halls. We had never had more than 1,400 students living on campus, and we now have over 1,700 students living on campus,” Dr. Alexander said. “That is a significant impact on the Shoals. You know that many more consumers utilizing restaurants and services, businesses here in Florence and across the Shoals, so the economic impact of more students living on campus is significant.” The census date, October 31st, comes later than many other universities’ because of a variety of eight week programs, like the Master of Business Administration or Master of Science in Nursing, that begin later in the semester. With different entry points for programs at the graduate level, UNA better caters to working professionals and adult learners who may not be able to begin studying at the start of a traditional semester. “We also have a lot of degree programs that are frankly in very high demand both at the baccalaureate and graduate levels,” Dr. Alexander said. “And so our brand has resonance for learners of all types: traditional students 18-23, adult learners, working professionals... we’re increasingly a first choice institution for all those types of learners, international students [too].” The university hit about a 15% increase in new international students although that number continues to decline nationally. “International students can come here and have a very good total experience,” Dr. Alexander said. “In the classroom, outside the classroom, feel supported, a lot of programs for international students, and they’re also getting a top rate education.” LaGrange Society member Makenzie Bullard guides tours for prospective students where she highlights the impact of international students on campus. “I love to share my experience, and how I made UNA my home by getting involved and making Florence something different than I had grown up with it being,” said Makenzie Bullard. “I focus a lot on our international population, and of course our live mascots, and how personal the educational experience is.” With enrollment numbers on the rise, UNA gains more traction in the fight for Project 208, President Kitts’ initiative to earn fair and equitable funding for the university. “I think that [our increasing enrollment] can be a really big deal for Project 208,” Bullard said. “With all the work that President Kitts is doing I feel like he has even more back up behind him now with the student’s number increasing. The state can’t ignore that we’re a growing school that’s already underfunded, and as we’re growing we need even more funds, and that’s something that he’s going to be able to use to the university’s advantage.” Even though UNA’s state allocation has increased 15% in the last two years, the university remains one of the most underfunded. State allocation only compromises 22-23% of the university’s budget, and student tuition and fees account for the rest. “It’s really not fair that students from our service region don’t have the same level of funding as students who might go to a different regional campus, Jacksonville State for example,” Dr. Alexander said. “We should be able to provide the same level of amenities and education, and educational services to students who are from a different part of the state than where their local universities are funded at such a higher rate.” The Alabama legislature will reconvene in February to debate an upcoming bond bill that gives about 1.25 billion dollars to education in the state. Historically, Preschool through grade 12 receives about 70% of that bill which leaves higher education with 30%. The 14 public universities and over 25 community college systems will divide up approximately 400 million dollars. “UNA needs its fair share of that money,” Dr. Alexander said. “We are working diligently on ensuring not only do we get our fair share with our recurring state funding, but also our fair share with this once every ten years or so bond bill funding. What does that look like? Hopefully 20, 30 40 million dollars, that we can use for all the capital projects around here that need to be addressed.”
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A workgroup at UNA revealed possible designs, locations and funding mechanisms for a new multi-use stadium, which will hold football and women's soccer games. The stadium remains in the exploratory stage, and it will continue to listen to student and community feedback.