Wayne State College campus

THIS PHOTO shows the Wayne State College campus in 2015. The college’s enrollment over the past years has trended upward, with modest gains in 2017-18 and a 9.9% increase last year, said president Dr. Marysz Rames.

More and more students are finding their way to Wayne for college.

Wayne State College posted enrollment gains for the 2019-20 academic year, with a 5.5% increase in student population size from 3,498 to 3,689, said president Dr. Marysz Rames.

Among the largest increases the college saw in enrollment was in graduate students, which was close to 90 students, Rames said. New programs such as criminal justice, many of them with an online-only option, drove this increase.

There were also 44 new international students attending Wayne State this fall, bringing the college’s total to about 85. The college has partnerships with Curaçao, Aruba, Nepal and England.

“What we’ve been doing is reaching out to countries where there’s a nice match in programs and affordability, creating a way for students to come to us and earn those degrees,” she said. “It’s very strategic and specific so there’s a strong partnership between us and those countries.”

For the undergraduate students, Rames cites having an all-encompassing and personalized experience as the reasons they choose Wayne. Most students’ homes are within a 150-mile radius of the college, including many from South Dakota and Iowa.

“We consistently hear that we provide that personalized education experience,” she said. “It’s a friendly campus that cares about success, faculty cares about them in class and want them to do well, they connect them to resources.”

Affordability is another important piece, she said, because post-secondary institutions are facing declining numbers of traditional college students amid growing concerns about the affordability of education, she said. This has made it even more important for Wayne State to provide a comprehensive experience for students.

“It’s understanding how those majors align with certain career opportunities for students, having them understand that when they come here, we’re going to work really hard at wrapping those around,” she said. “If we can do that in four years, we can save the students money.”

Wayne State enrollment over the past years has trended upward, with modest gains in 2017-18 and a 9.9% increase last year.

Rames said Wayne State administration and faculty are working to scale the personalized model that the college has come to be known for as enrollment increases. For example, she sent out an email to students encouraging them to reach out to her personally.

“I got some delightful emails from students, ‘I’m struggling in class and I talked to my professor about it,’ ” she said. “I’m reading those emails and that’s exactly what I want to hear happening.”

The college also has hosted meet-and-greet events to make sure students feel comfortable and are able to make relationships with their professors, and it’s implemented a new platform to identify students struggling early on in the semester, Rames said.

“What we’ve seen with this increase is that we have to be more strategic about identifying students in trouble and help them and provide those safety nets,” she said. “That’s something we observed last year, and we’re working on that.”

Providing facility space to accommodate the student body is also a consideration. Wayne State has updated the student center to create more areas for students, and it is looking at other areas such as its residence halls. The college also is working on new recreation facilities.

For upcoming years, Rames said the college plans to “refresh academic programs based on input from stakeholders,” in programs such as computer science, industrial technology and teacher education to make sure they remain relevant. Academic and student support is another area she hopes to address.

“Looking at academic support services, how can we expand those services, the tutoring, the coaching, what kinds of support is needed there,” she said. “And students struggling with homesickness.”

Wayne State was one of two colleges in the Nebraska state system to post enrollment gains, according to the Omaha World-Herald. The University of Nebraska Medical Center posted a 2.1% increase, while the six other colleges posted modest declines of up to 3%.

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