Rowan nears enrollment target years ahead of schedule

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Rowan University's president, Ali A. Houshmand, set the goal of having 12,000 full-time undergraduate students in the 2023-24 school year.

Just two years into an ambitious 10-year growth plan that included increasing full-time undergraduate enrollment by nearly 30 percent, Rowan University has nearly met that goal, though it has fallen slightly behind in others.

Rowan's president, Ali A. Houshmand, set the goal of having 12,000 full-time undergraduate students in the 2023-24 school year. That number was to be reached through controlled growth from 9,348 students in fall 2013.

Instead, full-time undergraduate enrollment has jumped to 11,710 this year, nearly reaching the final goal.

"That speaks volumes about the work we have done over the past several years," Houshmand said.

Rowan has grown in stature and also benefited from tough economic times in which parents push their children toward affordable college options, he said.

"We're seeing a huge increase in applications," he said.

Houshmand said full-time undergraduate enrollment, having essentially met its target, now would be kept relatively constant.

Instead, he said, the university needed to focus its effort on growing its other enrollment areas: part-time undergraduates, full- and part-time graduate students, and professional students.

The part-time undergraduate population, for example, has shrunk each year instead of growing. There were 1,603 part-time undergraduate students in fall 2013, with the number shrinking to 1,523 the next year and to 1,459 in fall 2015.

"There are some part-time students we need to make up, and transfer students generally make up a large part of that," said Jeff Hand, Rowan's vice president for strategic enrollment management.

Houshmand has set a 10-year total enrollment target of 25,650, nearly double the 2013-14 enrollment of 13,349.

Rowan currently is up to 16,155 students, a 21 percent growth in two years.

Much of the focus now is on transfer students, with Houshmand relying on partnerships between Rowan and area community colleges.

The university so far has partnered with the community colleges in Burlington and Gloucester Counties, which have renamed themselves Rowan College at Burlington County and Rowan College at Gloucester County.

Those partnerships include guaranteed acceptance for transfer students from the county colleges who meet Rowan's grade requirements. Rowan also encourages rejected freshmen applicants to attend the community colleges and enter Rowan via transfer.

"I'm likening this thing to baseball and the minor leagues - think about it, a farm system," Houshmand said.

Nearly half of the new students on campus this year came in as transfers from other schools, largely the community colleges.

Hand, the Rowan vice president, said the focus on transfer students is "very intentional," and growth in those areas will require better support systems.

"Transfer students come in with a mixed bag of issues . . . some of them academic, some of them money, some of them situational, and so what we do is, we have advising that's available for them at all times to sort out these issues for them," Hand said. "What we're doing is removing all those roadblocks."

Joseph Basso, a public relations and advertising professor at Rowan who is president of the faculty union, said he was excited about the enrollment growth, as long as it is matched by appropriate growth in other areas.

A two-time Rowan alumnus, Basso praised the expansion - "it's wonderful . . . it's exciting" - and noted that Rowan has grown its faculty ranks, sometimes in record numbers.

The thing Basso will be watching is whether that faculty growth continues, matching student growth with that of professors.

"We have lofty goals, and I commend those goals, I truly do. I think all of us are excited about it, but I have to consider that my job is to protect my members," he said.

Houshmand included faculty size as one of many components of the university that have to grow in order to meet his expansion goals.

"We have to worry about our infrastructure. As we speak, we are frantically trying to build more classrooms, more labs," Houshmand said.

"My biggest fear is to grow and [not] grow the rest of the components of the institution concurrently. And if you don't, then the quality is going to suffer," he said.

jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220 @elaijuh

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