More minority and community college students are seeking a higher education, a trend that helped Texas' enrollment grow about 4.3 percent to about 1.5 million this fall, according to preliminary data released by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board today.
"There is a steady growth across all sectors and ethnic groups," said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, during a telephone press conference held this week.
The 2011 preliminary enrollment reflects an increase of 62,467 students, the fourth largest increase since 2001. The state's highest enrollment increase in the last 10 years was in 2009 with 121,935 students.
The 2011 preliminary enrollment numbers are being presented to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board today during a quarterly meeting in Austin. Higher education institutions submit preliminary enrollment data to the state based on the 12th class day.
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Much of the gains in total enrollment came from students signing up for classes at Texas community colleges. That sector grew by 6.35 percent to 776,612 students, according to the state, Paredes said.
"Community colleges are still attracting the bulk of students to higher education," Paredes said.
Growth among African American students increased 9.9 percent from last fall, while Hispanic students increased 4.5 percent.
While work remains to be done, there are signs that some efforts are making a difference, Paredes said.
"Universities have done a wonderful job in enrolling more and more students," Paredes said, adding that universities such as the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M have worked to set up recruitment centers or partnerships with other institutions to attract more students.
There were 571,323 students enrolled in four-year public Texas universities, up 2.47 percent from last fall.
While UT Austin's enrollment dropped slightly from last fall to 51,145, the University of Texas at Arlington continued to experience growth. With 33,421 students, UTA is the second largest campus in the University of Texas system, and the sixth largest in the state.
"The gain in enrollment was not as strong as it was in that last two years, but it was there," said Kristin Sullivan, spokeswoman for UTA.
Sullivan said UTA's enrollment growth is attributable to a number of reasons, including the university's investment in online classes for nursing and education students and a growing awareness by most people about the value of higher education in the marketplace.
The University of North Texas had state's fourth largest enrollment, but actually experienced a slight drop in growth from last year. Last month, UNT was among several area universities to suggest that cuts in financial aid may be keeping some students out of the classroom.
But state higher education officials said it is too early to tell what type of impact financial aid cuts had on enrollment.
"We need to be cautious about drawing any conclusion about funding and enrollment levels based on preliminary data from one fall semester," said Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the coordinating board.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675