The fastest growing university in Arkansas last fall has recorded its fourth straight year of record-setting enrollments as Southern Arkansas University’s 11th class day numbers reported to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education included a 15.3-percent overall increase in students from a year ago.

Included in SAU’s enrollment records are total number of students (4,771), University Housing enrollment (1,764), School of Graduate Studies enrollment (1,484), freshmen class (854), and international student population (1,157). These numbers were officially reported to ADHE on SAU’s 11th class day on Friday, September 9, 2016.

“It is a great time to be a Mulerider! The excitement and energy at SAU’s campus is contagious as evidence by our fourth year of record enrollments,” said SAU’s President Dr. Trey Berry. “Students are being attracted to SAU because of our rich and often unique academic programs, our affordability, and our increasing reputation as a caring institution.”

Over the past few years, SAU has established several new and distinctive programs that are proving popular in the state and region. SAU Engineering, which launched fall 2013, already has an enrollment this fall of around 200 students. SAU’s Game Development and Animation Design programs have attracted more than 100 students to Magnolia. Marine Biology is also growing with more than 20 declared majors. Programs launched in 2016 are already garnering attention and include Cybersecurity, Social Entrepreneurship, Welding Engineering Technology and Engineering Technology.

SAU’s other established programs are also attracting top students, including areas of pre-health, nursing, business, liberal arts and agriculture. For the Department of Agriculture alone, this freshman class includes two Arkansas FFA officers – President Kinsey Watkins and Northwest Ark. Vice President Drew List – as well as the Arkansas 4-H President Mary Alice Cole. SAU’s theme this year is “I Chose SAU,” and when Cole was asked why she wanted to be a Mulerider, she quickly responded, “for me, it’s always been SAU.”

SAU’s balance of affordability and quality has also caught the attention of national higher education publications with several regional and national recognitions. The most recent accolade for SAU was a ranking of fourth among the 100 most affordable small universities west of the Mississippi, by GreatValueColleges.net. Last fall, SAU was recognized as sixth in the nation ranking for affordability among small universities by BestValueSchools.com. Along with being the fastest growing university in Arkansas in fall 2015, SAU was also recognized as being the most affordable and having the highest return on investment by the U.S. Department of Education.

“These honors represent our earnest attempts over the years to keep our educational costs affordable,” said Berry. “We hope this will resonate with students and parents that SAU is a place where they can receive a top quality education at a price that is very reasonable.”

SAU’s Dean of Enrollment Services Sarah Jennings is thrilled about the sustained and increased enrollment for the University. She said that recruiting is a campus- and community-wide effort, and the reputation of SAU enhances these efforts. For her, the growth will mean a continued strengthening of the University’s experiences for students. “I love the momentum!” She is extremely proud of her team of recruiters and they are already looking forward to recruiting and meeting next year’s class.

“It is an exciting time at SAU and we have an outstanding student body this year,” said SAU’s Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Donna Allen. “I am very grateful for all of the hard work and dedication our administration, faculty, and staff have shown to bring about another record enrollment. I'm looking forward to a great year.”

Magnolia and the surrounding communities are also excited about SAU. The day before classes started on August 23, the second annual Blue and Gold Day brought together campus and community members in downtown Magnolia. New and returning students were welcomed to town as merchants offered discounts and giveaways, and there was music, a fashion show, a performance by the Mulerider Marching Band, food and fun.

SAU’s steady enrollment growth over the past several years led to construction of two additional campus residence halls, Columbia and Magnolia Hall. The new Engineering Building, formerly the National Guard Armory, opened just in time for this fall’s semester and a dedication ceremony is set for Oct. 5.