In face of COVID-19 uncertainty, University of Lethbridge maintains enrolment growth

In an era of unprecedented uncertainty, students are showing they want to be a part of the University of Lethbridge experience — in whatever form that may take.

The U of L’s total enrolment for the Fall 2020 semester is up 0.4 per cent from Fall 2019, with 8,987 students registered in classes. It’s a number that is testament to the U of L continuing as a first choice for students and speaks to the work that has been put in by staff and faculty to ensure students are confident in the academic experience they will receive during the ongoing pandemic.

“Honestly, when the summer began and we started to look ahead to the fall, I’m not sure we knew what to expect,” says Kathleen Massey, the University’s associate vice-president (students). “The one thing we did know is we had a lot of work in front of us to create a primarily online learning platform that would give our students, both new and returning, the U of L experience for which we are known. We then had to articulate that to students and parents so they could make an informed decision about what was right for them.”

The collaborative work across campus was extensive and its results resonated. In addition to the total enrolment figure, numbers are up in several key categories. The University’s student retention rate improved 2.1 per cent from the previous year, with 86.4 per cent of those eligible to come back to the U of L opting to return.

“Our retention rate has been a strong focus of our efforts in recent years and it’s very encouraging to see it continually climb, and especially given the circumstance this year,” adds Massey. “These students would have had their spring semester interrupted when we were forced to vacate campus and pivot to an online delivery model virtually overnight. That they have chosen to return is testament to the work of our staff and faculty in making that switch as smooth as possible.”

The largest percentage increase at the U of L is in the number of graduate students, now up to 740, a rise of 17.6 per cent. Graduate students now constitute 8.2 per cent of total enrolment for the institution.

“More and more students are discovering the graduate experience at the U of L is unlike any other,” says Dr. Erasmus Okine, provost and vice-president (academic). “The research they are able to conduct across all disciplines is world class and the mentorship from our faculty members is personal and comprehensive. Many students began research work as undergraduates, which is very unique to our University, and are now transitioning into graduate studies to build upon that body of work.”

The U of L’s Calgary campus, which caters largely to the mature/professional student, saw an increase of 5 per cent to 627 students, while Indigenous student numbers increased as well. The Indigenous student population, which now makes up 6.6 per cent of total enrolment, rose 6.3 per cent to 590 students. International student numbers (excluding exchange students) also saw a significant increase of 6 per cent to 551. In June, the University decided not to have inbound or outbound exchange programs for Fall 2020 due to COVID-19. In Fall 2019, there were 54 inbound exchange students. International students make up 6.1 per cent of the total student population.

“These demographics are essential to the culture of our campus and the future of our communities,” says Massey. “Our efforts towards reconciliation are rooted in providing an academic platform that supports the Indigenous student. International students bring bright minds to our community from throughout the world and an international perspective that benefits everyone on campus.”