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University of Southern Mississippi Celebrates Record-Breaking Freshman Class

Thu, 09/10/2015 - 01:22pm | By: Jim Coll

For the sixth straight year, the average grade point average (GPA) for USM's first-time, full-time freshmen is the highest ever recorded. (University Communications photo)

The University of Southern Mississippi has enrolled more new students than in 2014, including a freshman class that defies national trends as the most academically prepared in the University's recorded history.

For the sixth straight year, the average grade point average (GPA) for USM's first-time, full-time freshmen is the highest ever recorded. New freshmen in Fall 2015 have an average GPA of 3.27, up from 3.26 in Fall 2014 and 3.06 in Fall 2009, when the six-year streak began. The average ACT score of new freshmen is 22.7, the highest known in University history.

The record-breaking class comes at a time in which national ACT and SAT scores are not increasing. In 2015, ACT scores across the country were flat—the composite average of 21.0 was the same as in 2014. SAT scores also dropped an average of seven points in 2015.

“The University remains committed to ensuring quality across the board,” University President Rodney D. Bennett said. “This freshman class moves us closer to achieving my vision for USM to be the model public institution for higher education not just for Mississippi, but the entire country.”

In all, 3,197 new undergraduate students enrolled at University of Southern Mississippi campuses in Hattiesburg and on the Gulf Coast, as well as through Online at Southern Miss. That total represents a 2.7% increase from new students enrolled in Fall 2014.

The class includes record enrollment in the Honors College, which provides opportunities for high-performing students to learn in small classes with experienced professors, exposes students to research opportunities and encourages participation in study-abroad programs. Its 195 new students have an average GPA of 3.81 and a record-setting average ACT score of 29.8. Total Honors College enrollment is 603.

“We are very excited about this year's incoming class, which includes high-achieving, curious students from our region and as far away as Colorado and Illinois,” said Dr. Ellen Weinauer, Dean of the Honors College. “Our students are interested in studying everything from Polymer Science to Dance and in making a difference both here at Southern Miss and after they graduate.  Their ambition and excitement bode well for the Honors College as well as for Southern Miss.”

While an outstanding freshman class is one highlight of Fall 2015 enrollment, increases in the quality of transfer students as well as positive advances in students' overall persistence rates are other successes. The average GPA for new transfer students from community colleges is 3.09, up from 3.04 in 2014. This increase also supports a positive trend in the average GPA for all transfer students, which rose from 3.00 in 2014 to 3.04 this fall. For the past five years, USM has served more transfer students than any other IHL institution.

For Fall 2015, 81.5% of students eligible to re-enroll from last fall have done so for this year. Additionally, the six-year graduation rate (2009 first-time, full-time freshman class) has increased to 49.8 percent, the highest in more than a decade.

In recent years, the University has increased its focus on ensuring students' successful progression toward graduation. That focus included the hiring of its first Associate Provost for Academic Excellence, Dr. Amy Miller, in July, as part of enacting a University committee's recommendations to engage students more effectively and improve graduation rates. Miller is leading University efforts to help students thrive as they progress through their degree programs, and she will also support faculty through programs that enhance orientation, mentoring and advising.

“We are thrilled with the new 10-year highs in our persistence and graduation rates, and with the record breaking freshman class,” said Dr. Steven Moser, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Our initiatives to improve academic advising and student mentoring, as well as increase academic support resources and opportunities, will provide our students with the highest quality academic experience.”

A preliminary total of 14,579 students are currently enrolled at the University, down slightly from the final enrollment count of 14,792 last year. While new student numbers have increased, a large graduating class in May 2015 factored into the overall enrollment decrease.

A total of 2,902 students are currently enrolled in courses taught by faculty housed on the University's Gulf Park campus in Long Beach. This figure, which has increased from last year's count of 2,868, includes students who choose to take classes there in person as well as those who enroll in Gulf Park classes that are offered online.

Through Online at Southern Miss, the University is the leading online learning provider in Mississippi, with the highest number of students enrolled in online classes and degree programs in the state. Fall enrollment demonstrates the increasing popularity of online coursework, as the total number of students enrolled in some or all online classes increased from 4,785 in Fall 2014 to 5,955 this year.