Ottawa University-Arizona announced Sept. 3 that enrollment on the first day of classes for the fall 2020 term showed a notable increase over the prior year despite the widespread ramifications of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
Enrollment at OUAZ’s campuses in Surprise and Phoenix exceeded that of fall 2019.
“In April, as the pandemic threatened to bring our world to its knees, we had to make some very difficult and urgent decisions,” Ottawa University Chancellor Kevin Eichner stated in a news release. “We had to cut back salaries, put people on furloughs, and trim educational and other benefits. From that vantage point, no one could be sure what we might be facing. Fall term enrollments at OU and throughout higher education were very much in doubt. In true OU fashion, our faculty and staff stepped up and responded.”
At OUAZ’s four-year-old residential campus in Surprise, 859 students were welcomed this fall for a 5.4% increase over the prior year. The Phoenix adult campus showed an increase of 8.5% with 574 students enrolled.
Eichner said he was “absolutely delighted” by the fall numbers, even more so considering the new term was clouded by the uncertainty of COVID-19. He credited the university’s administrators, faculty and staff for their tenacity in the face of a critical challenge.
“I have never been prouder of our institution,” Eichner stated. “We shifted academic delivery on a dime, starting at the end of last term, and made many changes to our modes of operation throughout the university. Then, we focused over the summer and took several key actions to ensure the safety and ongoing support for our students and personnel. Even in a work-from-home environment for most of our staff, it was clear that people were digging in and adjusting their work patterns and, indeed, their lives, in order to be productive and helpful.”
Dr. Dennis Tyner, OUAZ president, specifically praised the university’s admissions and athletics staffs.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our enrollment team and our coaching staff for their relentless work in recruiting our newest class of students to OUAZ,” Tyner stated. “The shutdowns of schools and athletic competitions that occurred as a result of COVID-19 affected their ability to meet with prospective students face-to-face, so they quickly adapted to the new environment, obviously with excellent results.”
As part of the university’s COVID-19 action plan, the fall term started early at the two residential campuses. In-person coursework will end in mid-November just prior to Thanksgiving, and final exams will be administered exclusively online.
This will give students an extended break through January when the spring term begins.
“OUAZ has created a distinctive value proposition for our residential students at the Surprise campus, and for our adult and international learners at the Phoenix location,” stated Chief Enrollment Officer Brian Sandusky. “We have built an effective marketing and recruitment program along with sound enrollment processes at both locations, but most importantly we have the right people in place to really make the difference. All of this resulted in a very positive enrollment outcome this year. Additionally, in Surprise, we have substantially more students living on campus than we did last year, and our student body is more diverse than ever and better academically prepared.”
Eichner stated that Ottawa officials knew if the campuses suffered major drops in enrollments this fall, the consequences would be very painful. It certainly is for a number of other institutions less fortunate right now.
He also stated that the university is cautiously optimistic in light of the favorable enrollment numbers. He said everyone understands that more challenges lie ahead, many of them daily.
“This is merely the beginning of a long new year as we will continue to navigate the new world that we live in,” he said. “But facemasks and all, here we are. We have had excellent starts at our two residential campuses and, so far at least, our students have been behaving responsibly with the new protocols in place to ensure we keep them healthy, happy, and learning. All of us will need to stay the course and shift it when necessary.”