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Edwards Waters University Announces Record Enrollment

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EWU President A. Zachary Faison opening a ribbon cutting ceremony for the school's new football stadium.

Edward Waters University has set a new enrollment record with the Fall semester now underway, with 1,104 students enrolled. Of those, 531 are new students.

The 155-year-old institution has been on a roll the last three months. EWU has opened a new student housing, cut the ribbon on a brand new football stadium, joined the NCAA, received grants from the National Parks Service and from Apple, and launched a new online graduate degree program as it transitioned from a college to a university.

The success isn’t just good fortune, according to EWU President A. Zachary Faison, but the result of hard work by the school administration the past three years.

“We really began planting the seeds for much of what we’re experiencing now,” Faison said. “We weren’t clairvoyant, but I think we were timely.”

EWU, formerly Edward Waters College, is Florida’s first historically black college or university.

Facing stagnant enrollment and struggling with retention, Edward Waters shifted some of its degree offerings and began to move recruitment away from traditional avenues to virtual outreach starting in 2019.

When the pandemic struck, EWU was in a unique position compared to many institutions around the country. While college enrollment fell nationally for fall 2020 and spring 2021, EWU actually grew both years, for a combined enrollment growth rate of 18% since 2019.

Faison said the road wasn’t easy, and the school had to overcome “dire financial circumstances” in 2018 to reach its recent success.

“The institution had suffered for over a decade, really under a yoke of having operation deficits… In those kinds of financial straits it really limits your ability to invest in the institution because you’re really just trying to survive,” he said.

The then-EWC administration put together a strategic plan called “Eminence 2025,” a four pillar roadmap to reverse the school’s fortune.  

The school partnered with a Philadelphia-based nonprofit to refinance debts and realign degree programs to be competitive in the market. It raised admission and academic standards while beefing up fundraising through its alumni network, private grants and investment. EWU also lobbied state and local governments for increased funds.

The university is now experiencing its second year in a row with a budget surplus, the first in over a decade, and has recently received grants from the National Park Service, Apple and the Jessie Ball DuPont fund. 

With accreditation through to the 2025 academic year, the school is looking to expand its degree offerings with computer science, social work, forensics and nursing.

Editor’s Note:A. Zachary Faison is a member of the WJCT Board of Trustees

Raymon Troncoso can be reached at rtroncoso@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RayTroncoso.