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21 September 2007
Reaching for the Goal

By Jennifer Bacchus
News Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

A few of the 9,077 students come out of class at the Stone Center. Photo: Anita Kilgore

Ten thousand students. It isn’t an official goal, more of an abstract objective – something Jacksonville State University hopes to achieve and is working toward, but without a definite deadline to reach that benchmark.

Last Wednesday, JSU’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment received the final enrollment numbers for the fall semester. This year total enrollment, at 9,077, is only 120 more students than last year, but it is the second largest enrollment JSU has ever seen. The fall semester of 2005, with 9,110 students, holds the record.

During the April 16 board of trustees meeting, Dr. Rebecca Turner, vice president of Academic Affairs, and Tim Garner, JSU’s marketing consultant, presented the board with an updated recruitment plan, part of their effort to reach the 10,000 mark.

The plan focuses on the branding of Jacksonville State University – from logos to location – on all its advertising.

“We’re trying to get the word out about Jacksonville State and we’re trying to let people know we’re in Jacksonville, Ala., not Jacksonville, Fla.,” said Dr. William Meehan, president of JSU as he related a story of a parent who called him once complaining of the temperature in her son’s dorm room only to learn she had called the wrong university. She meant to call Jacksonville University.

They also plan to play up the highly successful distance education program. In 2004, 1,610 JSU students took at least one course online. A year later, as distance education came into its own with video conferencing classes supplementing the online courses, the number jumped to 2,441.

This year, 2,899 students are registered for at least one distance education or online class.

JSU currently offers two Bachelor’s degree programs, thee graduate certifications and eight Master’s degree programs through distance education.

This year, the most interesting data so far is in the number of first-time freshmen who chose JSU.

“I think the first time freshman enrollment is, at this point, the most visible increase when you look at last year we had 1,144 and this year 1,302. That’s quite a significant increase,” said Dr. Alicia Simmons, director of the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment. “That’s exiting because that’s students who are coming to enjoy the campus. These are first-time freshmen who are looking for a college experience, most of them are.”

Over the last four years, there has been a steady increase in first-time freshmen. In 2004 there were 1,057 then a slight increase of less than 100 in 2005 brought the number to 1,151 and a small dip of 7 in 2006 took it back down to 1,144.

Compared to those small losses and gains, this year’s leap to 1,301 is impressive.

Part of the credit goes to the work of recruiters and advertising, spreading the word about JSU, while part of it may have to do with the recent trend of students who shop around for the school they want to attend.

Applications from first-time freshmen leaped from 2,799 for the fall semester of 2006 to 3,299, a university record, this year.

“It’s phenomenal. I think more students are applying to a number of schools,” said Meehan. “I think they are shopping the higher education market. We see that from so many students who attend our summer orientation as well as orientation at other schools.”

Compare that number to 10 years ago (1,858) or 20 years ago (1,542) and you’ll find the numbers have more than doubled since 1987.

Most of those students still come from Alabama, a small worry for Meehan, since a recent report by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education projects a two percent decrease in Alabama high school graduates over the next 10 years.

The WICHE report isn’t all bad news, however, as they expect the graduation rate will be up by 4.2 percent from 2001-02 to 2017-18.

“From 2003-04 through 2007-08, growth ranging from nearly two to three percent for some years is projected. That growth will be short lived, however, and the remaining years out to 2017-18 will primarily see declines or low growth in the number of public high school graduates. The number of public high school graduates is expected to increase to 38,738 in 2017-18, a 4.2 percent change over 2001-02,” said the WICHE report for Alabama. The number of Alabama graduates in the 2001-02 school year was 37,170.

This year, 1,739 of the students at JSU come from outside Alabama’s borders, the vast majority of them, 1,237, from Georgia.

Overall, this year’s numbers so far show in increase over 2006 in every aspect except one – graduate students.

For the last three years, the number of students taking graduate courses has steadily decreased, from the high of 1,825 in 2005 to 1,646 last year and 1,592 this fall.

“With No Child Left Behind, that drove a lot of teachers back to school to be highly qualified. I think we’ve seen that bubble, that curve in that market,” said Meehan.

About Jennifer Bachus

Jennifer Bacchus is a staff writer at The Jacksonville News. She can be reached at 256-435-5021 or via e-mail at

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