UNO’s largest incoming undergraduate class, enrollment increase part of ‘something special’


By Joe Shearer, Photo Editor

Chancellor John Christensen and fellow university administrators set a lofty goal in 2011: Get UNO enrollment to 20,000 by the year 2020.
That number became more of a reality this semester, the University reported, as UNO’s total enrollment hit 15,227 students, including a record-setting 3,251 incoming undergraduate class and 1,890 new freshmen. The overall increase in enrollment this year is three percent, the largest increase UNO has seen in five years.
The University also saw key increases across several enrollment demographics this academic year. The number of minority students jumped 16.1 percent; graduate students increased 9.1 percent to make for 2,892 enrolled; international student numbers raised 4.3 percent to make 732 enrollees; and a 4.1 percent increase in nonresident students brings their total to 1,928.
These results didn’t just happen overnight. UNO has made these significant strides possible due to making key additions on-site and in the classroom.
Most recently, UNO cut the ribbon to the state-of-the-art Biomechanics Research Building, which houses the Nebraska Biomechanics Core Facility and their research of human movement.
Athletics are very important in Nebraska, and UNO’s move to Division-I is looking to make the school a more attractive option for student athletes. The addition of a University-owned arena should also turn more heads.
UNO has also earned a number of awards, as well as recognition by prestigious institutions. In 2011 the school was classified as a Carnegie Doctoral/Research institution, a distinction shared by less than 100 universities. The University has also become more-accommodating in the 21st century by offering more online courses. This year, UNO’s online Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) degree, the entire University of Nebraska system’s only fully-online bachelor’s degree program available, was ranked in the top 5 percent of online degree programs in the country, according to US News & World Report.
Add in  other recent facility additions like Mammel Hall, the renovated HPER building and the soon-opening Community Engagement Center and the list of accomplishments just starts to trail off.
Dean of Graduate Studies Deborah Smith-Howell celebrates her 25th year of working for the University this year and has been around to see the school’s gradual-but-drastic transformation. She says the University’s campus additions and expansions over the years have made UNO a more traditional school.
“There are a lot of differences between then and now, but I think one of the biggest differences is the idea of having more full-time students,” Smith-Howell said. “It seemed unusual 20-plus years ago that we had full-time graduate students. But now we have seen such an increase in both undergraduate and graduate students, and that comes with putting the focus on the campus.”
Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Pelema Morrice has been with UNO for much less time than Smith-Howell. Hired in 2011, Morrice became the leader behind UNO’s strategic enrollment management planning.
“I was very fortunate when I arrived two years ago,” Morrice said. “Chancellor Christensen and Dr. [B.J.] Reed have already set out with admission and enrollment goals and were putting the right people and instructors in place to actualize the growth. I came in at a good time to be able to add another piece to the puzzle, but a lot had already been done before I arrived, so I’ve just been trying to champion that work since 2011 and build on that platform.”
Another important element for UNO to draw more appeal is having a recognizable brand, which has become more-apparent since the University’s unveiling of a fully-developed brand guide in 2011.
“It’s not just important in the city, it’s in the region and nation, too,” Smith-Howell said. “One of the things we know is that kind of brand identity, that ability to recognize – whether it’s a slogan or icon – what it represents is really critical to be able to establish and build on a reputation for any kind of institution.”
While UNO is currently enjoying its success, the institution must continue to think forward to the future.            
“We are in a very competitive market for students,” Morrice said. “It is very important that we are aggressive about making sure that we are able to provide opportunities for students. It allows for UNO to grow, it allows the community and Omaha and the region to grow and it simply just gets more students out there to earn degrees and ready themselves for the workforce.”
Managing for change is at a critical point within UNO now. The top administrators know that while change is good, it must be consistent to keep students coming in.
“[UNO] recognizes that change is inevitable,” Smith-Howell said. “And that change comes much more quickly now, so we have to prepare ourselves for that. We are in a truly dynamic environment, where in order to succeed you need to be constantly monitoring the environment around you, and not just thinking about students now, but where they’re going to need to be 10, 15, 20 years down the road.”
Although the future is never certain, University representatives like Smith-Howell and Morrice said that they are happy to be where they are at and how UNO is shaping up.
“We have something special here in Omaha,” Smith-Howell said.