WILLMAR - About 3,225 students were on Ridgewater College’s Willmar and Hutchinson campuses Monday, the first day of classes of the fall semester.

“It’s good to have students back on campus,” said President Doug Allen and he was enjoying seeing so many people walking across the courtyard and into buildings.

“On behalf of everybody here, faculty, staff, administration, we’re really excited about the year coming up and happy for the students that are here, that made this choice,” he said. “We think they made a really good choice.”

The preliminary enrollment figures indicated that enrollment is about the same as last year, but some students are taking fewer credits, Allen said.

Allen said it’s hard to know for sure why some students are taking fewer classes. It’s not a lot of students, but enough to reduce the school’s full-year equivalent number by about 2 percent.

“I think there can be a host of reasons,” he said.

Work schedules may have something to do with it, he said, because the area’s economy is quite strong and unemployment is low.

Demographics of the region, with high schools graduating smaller classes, could be a factor, too.

The entire Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system has reported an enrollment drop in recent years, and that is often attributed to a strengthening economy causing some people to move into the workforce instead of attend college or technical programs.

Ridgewater’s enrollment is about 18 percent lower than its highest ever student population in 2011, Allen said. The diversity of its student body has grown during that time.

Enrollment shifts vary across the state this year, with the system projecting a 3 percent drop overall, he said. Some schools are down more than that, and others have seen increases.

Students will see some innovative programs in operation on campus this year, some new and some expanding their efforts, Allen said.

The college has several collaborative programs with other schools, in agriculture, manufacturing and information technology. The Rural Information Technology Alliance, based at Ridgewater, is a consortium of four schools working to improve training for IT careers, including cyber security and mobile app development. The consortium recently unveiled its new virtual desktop capabilities.

The Center for Excellence in Agriculture, also housed in Willmar, has a new coordinator and many plans for the coming year.

The college’s information technology efforts include collaboration with the upcoming Hack2o, the area’s first hackathon for developing new ideas and new apps.

The college will continue its efforts to present OnCourse workshops for students. “It’s a national program designed to improve things like persistence and completion,” he said. “Students learn a lot about themselves and the connection between decisions and outcomes.”

Fall also means the return of Warriors football and volleyball.

“We’re excited about sports teams getting under way,” Allen said. “Volleyball won this weekend.”

The school’s volleyball team has won three national championships in the past nine years under coach Joe Sussenguth. The team had a 3-1 record in the Ridgewater Classic over the weekend.

The football team plays its home opener Saturday afternoon at Hodapp Field under new coach Lloyd Danzeisen.

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