Despite plunges in undergraduate enrollment for colleges nationwide due to the pandemic, Concordia University has reason to celebrate this year, with its Mequon campus’ traditional undergraduate total holding steady and its Ann Arbor campus celebrating an all-time record high.

Concordia’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness recently released the university’s fall 2020 census data. CUW’s traditional undergraduate population came in at 2,319 this year, just 23 students down from last year’s total. The incoming freshmen class at CUW totaled 540 students. Prior to COVID, Concordia’s Mequon campus had seen steady growth among its new traditional undergraduate student populations. Outside of a fall 2016 dip, CUW’s new student population steadily increased year after year beginning in fall 2010.

The CUAA campus hit record-high totals for both its undergraduate enrollment and incoming freshmen class size. CUAA grew its undergraduate population by 34 students from last fall’s census number, bringing its total for fall 2020 to 1,010. CUAA’s freshmen class also grew by 27, bringing its total this fall to 250.

Universities nationwide fared worse. Overall, enrollment at higher education institutions declined 4 percent, with community colleges taking the worst hit with a 9.4 percent decrease, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) data.

Public, four-year universities saw about a 4 percent decline in freshmen student enrollment, according to NSCRC. First-time freshmen enrollment dropped by just over 19 percent for public, two-year schools and 12 percent for public, four-year schools.

Fall 2020 census numbers also showed promising retention rates. CUW retained nearly 82 percent of its 2019 new students.

“That would be a feat under normal circumstances but it’s something to be especially celebrated amidst COVID-19,” said Concordia’s research analyst/specialist Paul Wangerin.

Even as national data shows concerning dropout or opt-out rates among low-income students due to stressors brought on by the pandemic, Concordia University remains focused on ensuring an excellent and accessible education for as many students as possible.

This fall, the university’s Advancement department took up a campaign to ensure that students at every financial level had access to a personal electronic device. The Digital Angel Campaign superseded its target goal, making even more computers accessible to students in need. CUW’s Pell Grant-eligible population makes up 23 percent of the campus’ total enrollment.

CUW also launched or made progress toward starting more than a dozen new academic programs in 2020. It’s newest doctorate program, a Doctor of Business Administration, received approval this past spring and is slated for launch in summer 2021. It is largely thanks to new program additions like these that Concordia rose 23 places on U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 America’s Best Colleges guide.

Concordia University is affiliated with The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and operates two residential campuses in Mequon, Wisconsin, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. The university also serves nontraditional students through accelerated learning centers located throughout Wisconsin and through online programs that reach learners worldwide.

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at or 262-243-2149.

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