UNCW Surpasses 18,000 Students, Topping Previous Enrollment Record

Thursday, September 02, 2021

UNCW reached a significant milestone as the fall semester started, enrolling more than 18,000 students, the largest student body in the university’s 74-year history. 

Preliminary enrollment data show 18,031 students for the fall 2021 semester, including a record 3,542 graduate students. Undergraduate students account for 14,489 of the university’s enrollment. The university also saw an increase in its transfer students, with 1,980 students enrolled this semester. UNCW’s first-year class stands at 2,435 students, another record number. 

“UNCW excels at providing the distinctive advantages that today’s students expect – high-quality teaching, strong mentoring and meaningful applied learning experiences that prepare graduates to thrive in changing times,” Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli said. “Our innovative degree programs, advanced research endeavors and collaborative community partnerships form the basis of an exceptional and accessible education that inspires remarkable students to join the Seahawk community each year.”

The university led the UNC System in enrollment growth from 2009-2020 at a rate of 39 percent.

Graduate school enrollment has increased by 94 percent since 2016. As a doctoral university recognized nationally for high research activity, the growth in graduate programs corresponds with the university’s commitment to meeting the educational needs of the region and state and the demand for quality programs. UNCW was recognized as one of only three UNC System schools on the U.S. News & World Report’s list of  Top 100 Public National Universities for 2021, ranking 95th. Four programs – part-time MBA, education, public administration and social work – are represented on the publication’s list of “2020 Best Graduate Schools.”

“We’re very proud that UNCW graduate programs continue to attract record numbers of excellent students each year,” said Chris Finelli, dean of UNCW’s Graduate School. “On balance, the growth has been good because it has allowed us to serve the region well by offering high-demand programs. There are always growing pains, and we need to recognize the hard work of the staff and faculty in supporting our students and delivering outstanding programs.”

Most of the growth in graduate programs is driven by online options and several new programs both traditional and online, Finelli added. The graduate school has added new programs in areas such as integrated marketing and communications, health care administration, film making and film studies. Existing programs such as the MBA, Doctor of Nursing Practice, history and computer science also have grown substantially, and the Ph.D. in psychology graduated its first doctoral student this year.

“UNCW has been able to develop programs that are in demand by students seeking additional career opportunities and to grow as scholars,” said Finelli. “Our online programs are meeting the needs of working professionals and other segments of the student community that are not able to participate in the on-campus experience.”

UNCW currently offers four doctoral degrees, 37 master’s degrees and 58 majors, as well as certificate and add-on licensure programs for individuals to choose from. Graduate degree options range from nursing and educational leadership to marine biology, film studies and psychology.

In July, the university announced its plans to expand STEM and critical workforce programs by offering two new undergraduate degree programs in cybersecurity and intelligent systems engineering. The programs are slated to start in fall 2022, pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. UNCW will be the first university in the UNC System to offer undergraduate degrees in those disciplines.

Guided by its Strategic Plan, UNCW continues developing and refining its academic programs to prepare students for careers in emerging industries and high-demand jobs.

--Venita Jenkins