While student enrollment has dropped at many colleges and universities nationwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, fall enrollment at Fresno State is at a record high.

The University’s fall 2020 enrollment census shows a total of about 25,300 students, about a 5% increase from fall 2019, making it the University’s largest enrollment ever.

The number of first-year students and transfer students are also at an all-time high. Fresno State has nearly 3,700 first-year students and nearly 2,800 transfer students, an increase of about 11% and 38%, respectively, compared to the previous year.

Just as significant, more students who started at Fresno State a year ago are choosing to continue at the University. The one-year student retention rate is at a high of nearly 87%, up from 82.5% last year.

“Our bold students are leaning into these unique circumstances with an eye toward the future because they understand that a college degree will position them well for future professional success,” said Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro. “The impressive enrollment growth and retention reflect the ongoing commitment by Fresno State faculty, staff and administration to continue to serve students in new and creative ways despite difficulties posed by the pandemic.”

Since 2015, Fresno State has been an impacted campus meaning the University receives more qualified applicants than its state funding model will support. Being impacted makes admission to Fresno State competitive — meeting the minimum California State University requirement does not guarantee admission.

But in the wake of the pandemic and following new, more flexible, admission guidelines and extended deadlines from the CSU, Fresno State admitted more CSU-eligible students who applied, which helped to increase enrollment numbers this fall.

The strong partnerships that the University has developed with local school districts and community colleges over the years also helped with recruitment, allowing Fresno State recruiters to contact and work directly with prospective students even more this year than ever before, said Phong Yang, director of Admissions and Recruitment at Fresno State.

Since spring, admissions and recruitment staff have worked with students to make sure they are on track with admissions paperwork, financial aid applications and other needed items. The team conducted more than 60 webinars, and had over 8,600 participants learning college basics, such as how to use student portals and apps, looking at tools for success, getting help with registration for Dog Days and more. Dog Days, a series of orientation sessions for new and transfer students, was virtual this year and free.

“Those are all contributing factors that had students apply and enroll,” Yang said. “More than ever this year, we were with the students all along the way.”

The University also introduced a one-of-a-kind admissions program called the Welcome Home Initiative for students who were enrolled this past spring at a four-year college or university outside of the Fresno area but who have returned home to the Valley due to circumstances relating to COVID-19. The initiative enrolled about 40 students, many of whom attended other CSU campuses and schools within the University of California.

The numbers speak to the loyalty of our community and the dedication of students in the Valley — many of whom are first-generation, Yang said, who “want to pursue a higher education, even in times like COVID-19 when they can choose to sit out, because they want an education to make their life and the lives of the families better.”