En­roll­ment woes hit peak at Penn­syl­va­nia state uni­ver­si­ties

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Bill Schack­ner

Fresh num­bers are adding ur­gency to a broad re­design un­der­way across Penn­syl­va­nia’s 14 state-owned uni­ver­si­ties, as en­roll­ment now has slipped to a level not seen in 20 years.

This year’s loss of 2.6% or 2,561 stu­dents puts to­tal the fall head count at 95,802, about 20% or nearly 24,000 stu­dents fewer than when en­roll­ment peaked at 119,513 in 2010. It has de­clined each of the nine years since then.

Of­fi­cials with the Penn­syl­va­nia State Sys­tem of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion point to de­mo­graphic fac­tors, in­clud­ing de­clin­ing num­bers of high school grad­u­ates, that con­tinue to drive en­roll­ment losses on pub­lic and pri­vate cam­puses in parts of the na­tion, in par­tic­u­lar the Mid­west and New Eng­land.

David Pid­geon, a PASSHE spokesman, said there were some pos­i­tive signs, not­ing that four of the 14 uni­ver­si­ties recorded in­creases, and the num­ber of first-year stu­dents stayed al­most even from last year at about 17,000 at the 14 schools.

De­spite the hard­ships, “There’s a lot of great things hap­pen­ing and a lot of great peo­ple at those uni­ver­si­ties,” he said.

But the over­all de­cline, he added, un­der­scores why the sys­tem has been un­der­go­ing a planned change in ar­eas rang­ing from how the cam­puses set price and dis­pense fi­nan­cial aid, to bet­ter align­ing aca­demic pro­grams to work­force de­mand.

“It also com­pels us to look at where there are po­ten­tial

LEHIGH VAL­LEY-AREA SCHOOLS

growth mar­kets,” he said. “One would be adult learn­ers and the other would be fo­cus­ing on how we can in­crease stu­dent re­ten­tion.”

The need for the lat­ter was ev­i­denced by num­bers of con­tin­u­ing stu­dents. That to­tal de­clined this fall to 55,339 stu­dents, more than 2,400 fewer con­tin­u­ing stu­dents than last year.

A key sys­tem goal is “mak­ing sure stu­dents who start at the State Sys­tem are sup­ported as they fol­low through to ob­tain­ing their de­gree and then start their ca­reers,” Pid­geon said.

All five cam­puses in West­ern Penn­syl­va­nia saw de­clines this year com­pared to fall 2018. The largest loss was recorded by In­di­ana Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, down more than 8%, or 945 stu­dents. The school’s en­roll­ment stands at 10,636.

Cal­i­for­nia Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia saw a drop of 6.4%, or 470 stu­dents; Clar­ion Univer­sity lost about 3.4%, or 166 stu­dents; Ed­in­boro de­clined by about 3.9%, or 188 stu­dents; and Slip­pery Rock was off by less than 1%, or 18 stu­dents.

West Ch­ester, the PASSHE’s largest univer­sity with 17,691 stu­dents, in­creased by less than 1%, up 139 stu­dents. Oth­ers schools with gains in­cluded Mans­field Univer­sity, up 2% or 33 stu­dents; Millersvil­le, up less than 1% or 36 stu­dents; and Cheyney Univer­sity, which saw a 32%, or 149 stu­dent, in­crease to 618 stu­dents. Cheyney is one of the na­tion’s old­est his­tor­i­cally black col­leges.

Other schools that saw de­clines in­cluded Blooms­burg, down 2.6%; East Strouds­burg, down 3.3%; Kutz­town, down 1.3%; Lock Haven, down 7.7%; and Ship­pens­burg down 4.9%.

MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

The cam­pus of Kutz­town Univer­sity. Schools across the state are see­ing a de­cline in en­roll­ment since it peaked in 2010.

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