DENVER – Dene Thomas, president of Fort Lewis College, had a chance to brag on her institution’s achievements during a presentation Friday to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in Denver.
The high points included the opening of the new multi-million dollar Geoscience, Physics and Engineering building on campus, a substantial increase in graduation rates and the college’s continued commitment to the Native American tuition waiver.
“This is now a 106-year old commitment undertaken by the state and it has brought us national renown,” Thomas said. “No baccalaureate institution awards more degrees, including STEM degrees, to Native Americans than Fort Lewis College.”
That has helped close the achievement gap for Native Americans, a group that achieved a 35 percent 6-year graduation rate for the 2010 freshman class, she said. That is an increase of 16 percent from the same rate for the 2005-06 cohort.
In the same time, the overall graduation rate for 6-year students has risen from 36 percent to 45 percent.
The overall diversity of FLC also came up during the CCHE hearing.
The student body is evenly split between males and females, 33 percent is Native American, 11 percent is Hispanic and a further 4 percent comes from other minority groups.
That means 48 percent of the student body is from a minority demographic, which is a point of pride for FLC. The college intends to apply for additional federal funding if it is classified as a minority-serving institution, Thomas said. To get that classification, FLC must have a minority enrollment of at least 50 percent.
What did not come up in Friday’s session, are the enrollment woes the college has faced in recent years.
Enrollment in the fall semester was down 3.4 percent.
The Independent, FLC’s student newspaper, reported last month that enrollment for the spring semester continued to drop, and was down 5.8 percent.
Mitch Davis, public affairs officer for the college, said the drop is not uncommon as enrollment numbers always decrease following the fall graduation because most incoming freshman enroll in the fall semester.
Thomas attributed the decrease to a combination of the increased requirements for students entering FLC and the increased graduation rate.
In the past. FLC has contracted with Royall & Company, an enrollment management company based in Richmond, Virginia, in attempts to increase its headcount.
“We want to do everything we can to increase our enrollment within the limitations of the higher standard and the students moving through faster,” Thomas said.