Purdue expects record 10,000-plus in freshman class

The university continues to surpass its targets with a simple strategy: be innovative, prioritize students.
By: | May 17, 2021
Purdue University/Rebecca McElhoe

Even Purdue University, which perennially exceeds its enrollment targets, didn’t see this wave of students coming.

The West Lafayette, Ind., university said it is expecting more than 10,000 freshmen to be enrolled for the 2021-22 academic year, an increase of 12% over last year’s class.

Purdue had close to 33,600 undergraduates enrolled in 2020-21, and this latest surge would boost the incoming class tally by about 1,200 students. No freshman group in the Big Ten has eclipsed the 10,000-plus mark in six years.

“We’ve become accustomed to rising demand for a Purdue education, but this latest surge surpassed all our projections,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels said. “It imposes a great responsibility on us to maintain and enhance the quality and value that is attracting these record classes. Fortunately, we’ve had lots of experience doing that.”

While large public universities and many top research and academic institutions have enjoyed the riches of applications and are expecting big classes in the fall, others have not experienced the kind of surge Purdue has. Enrollment numbers released this spring by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed a 6% decline year over year combined for all institutions, a trend that has largely continued throughout the pandemic.

But even with the shutdown, the move to remote learning, the precautions and strategies put in place, students haven’t stopped looking at Purdue. This year, more than 58,000 prospective students applied for entry. Only 8% of them, in-state and out, were accepted. And still, Purdue managed to increase its freshman pool of those out-of-state by 1,000 – a nice problem to have.

Inside the numbers

So, what has made Purdue stand out? Officials say it is innovation, reputation and its ability to help students make an easy transition to careers. Though rankings don’t tell the entire story of a college or university, sometimes they don’t hurt. Yes, Purdue ranks No. 1 in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges in agricultural and biological engineering and is No.3 in speech language pathology. It also has one of the top hospitality programs in the nation. But these other numbers help make it stand out in the minds of students:

  • It is ranked No. 3 in development of “new companies based on university-created innovations.” Stanford and MIT are 1-2.
  • It is No. 5 overall by U.S. News & World Report for innovation
  • It is No. 4 on CNBC’s top colleges that “pay off the most”
  • It is No. 8 for having the most employable public university students in the country by the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education.
  • And its Center for Career Opportunities reports 95% of their students “have successful outcomes”
  • It also hasn’t increased tuition in almost a decade

In this most unique of years, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Kris Wong Davis said the university has done well to keep students happy, safe and on campus.

“National surveys tell us that a college’s response to COVID-19 greatly influences a student’s likelihood to enroll,” she said. “While many schools were not able to open last fall, we were determined to safely welcome back our students after they told us in overwhelming numbers that they hoped we would.”

They’ll be back in 2021-22 and in higher numbers. So, Purdue says it will increase its academic supports, make dozens of new hires, repurpose office spaces into classes and add more housing.