UNA: fastest growing university in the state

Alex Hopper, News Editor

After experiencing another record-breaking enrollment, The University of North Alabama has been marked as the fastest-growing university in Alabama. 

The current enrollment tops 8,800 students for the Fall 2021 semester. This is the eleventh consecutive term UNA has topped it’s enrollment from the previous year. 

University President Kenneth Kitts says this milestone speaks to the strength of the university’s brand and educational environment. 

“We can say with assurance that [UNA] is no longer the best-kept secret among higher education institutions in Alabama,” Kitts said in a statement to the university. “This is a significant occasion in our history.”

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Ross Alexander, speaks to the strategies the university has implemented to see this level of growth.  

“Nine out of fourteen public universities in the state are losing enrollment,” Alexander said. “So [our growth] is the product of a very intentional strategy that involves a lot of good faculty, staff, students, and community members.”

That strategy specifically seeks to make earning a degree at UNA accessible to all types of learners. 

For students coming straight out of high school, Alexander points to a portfolio of programs that the university believes will lead to job opportunities immediately upon graduation. 

One meteoric rise in enrollment comes from the online programs the university has worked to develop in the past five years. Online learning has proven to be a major market for the university as it opens the doors to students already in the workforce, international students and students who are looking for a more flexible curriculum.

“For example, If you have an adult student who can’t take time out of the workforce but needs to earn a Bachelor’s degree while working full time, we have a host of flexible options,” Alexander said. 

The graduate programs offered at the university have been modeled to fit an online format. Alexander says these programs are the greatest area of growth for the university. 

“These are market focused, graduate degree programs delivered largely online that empower career advancement for adults and executive learners,” Alexander said. 

With restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, studying at UNA as an international student has had its challenges. However the office of academic affairs says they have seen a continued growth in international students despite this. 

“We are a global campus and we take pride in that,” Alexander said. “International students have returned this semester at the same level as fall of 2019, pre-pandemic.”

In addition to record breaking enrollment, the university has also experienced a record breaking graduation rate. 

“This is a testament to our commitment to get students out of here within four years or fewer,” Alexander said. 

Though growth in enrollment has its advantages, Alexander states that it’s important to ensure that growth is garnered in a “smart way.” 

The university has tried to keep a healthy balance between growth in enrollment and programming and maintaining the smaller, individualized spirit UNA has garnered. 

“Having roughly 6000 on-campus students and 3000 online students is a good healthy balance,” Alexander said. “That still puts us in a very identifiable niche within the state.”

In response to the student interest, the university has plans to review the portfolio of degree programs and revamp the residence halls. 

“We’re pretty innovative and aggressive about partnering with employers to offer degrees or to tweak degrees that will benefit our students,” Alexander said. 

As the Honors College is another significant area of growth for the university, the first residence hall to be remodeled will be LaGrange Hall. 

The process of demolishing the hall will occur before the end of the year and a new residence hall will be built in its place. 

Alexander said the Office of Academic Affairs is consistently looking to the students to help lead their efforts. 

“We really do take our obligation to make sure students are successful, seriously,” Alexander said. “Feedback is very important.”

The university says this achievement sets UNA well among its peers in higher education across the United States.