UW Tacoma’s very slight increase in enrollment, to a record number of 5,380 students, is driven mostly by strong numbers for continuing and returning students. The numbers of new first-year students and new transfer students declined slightly from last year.
That students who had already started at UW Tacoma would choose to continue their education even with the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps not as surprising as it might seem.
“It’s a testament to the resilience of our students,” said Dr. Bonnie Becker, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Success. “Students are determined to keep going with their education.”
Becker has been involved in efforts to improve retention at UW Tacoma. Retention measures the proportion of students who enroll again at UW Tacoma after a given period of study. For example, 81% of the students who entered UW Tacoma in 2006 came back in 2007. For students who entered in 2019, that number has risen to 85% coming back this autumn.
There are many things that can influence a student’s decision to continue their education. Some are within the purview of the university, and some are external. Becker and her team want to have an impact in both areas, connecting directly with students to ensure they know about resources that can help them address institutional requirements or meet life’s challenges.
Becker’s team also surveys students to get their feedback as the academic quarter progresses, and to understand where more resources might be needed. It was feedback from students via these surveys that revealed the need for individual study spaces on campus and printing access even during the pandemic.
Like Becker, UW Tacoma Registrar Andrea Coker-Anderson finds that UW Tacoma students are “persisting and persevering amidst great challenge.”
“The education process right now is a challenge,” she said, “and I feel for the students trying to navigate it.”
The UW has made several changes to academic policies to give students maximum flexibility during this time of remote instruction due to pandemic. For example, the academic quarters in spring, summer and autumn 2020 and winter 2021 have all been declared “extraordinary circumstances quarters,” and students can request to change their grade in any of their courses from numeric to satisfactory/not satisfactory (S/NS). For courses in these quarters, grades of “S” will count toward degree and major requirements. Faculty will not know at the time of grading whether a student has elected numeric or S/NS grading. Students can elect to change their grades in these quarters up to the time they complete their UW education and are ready to receive their degrees.
“It’s all about helping students stick to their education plans,” said Coker-Anderson. “This grading policy change gives students ways to persist that wouldn’t be needed if we didn’t have COVID-19 with us.”