Enrollment woes hit peak at Pennsylvania state universities
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
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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%.
The campus of Kutztown University. Schools across the state are seeing a decline in enrollment since it peaked in 2010.