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Enrollment at Pennsylvania’s state universities drops for eighth straight year

October 27, 2018 GMT

Enrollment at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education dipped for the eighth consecutive year, system officials said Monday.

A census taken at the 14 state-owned universities as of the 15th day of the fall semester revealed enrollment declined from 102,301 last fall to 98,094. The roughly 4 percent decline was double the projected 2 percent decline. State System schools in Western Pennsylvania include California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities.

The latest numbers reflect an 18 percent drop in enrollment -- or a loss of 21,419 students statewide -- since 2010, when enrollment peaked at 119,513 students.

Only West Chester University in suburban Philadelphia has seen enrollment grow during that period -- from 14,490 in 2010 to 17,552 this fall. In Western Pennsylvania, Slippery Rock managed to at least stem the flow. It enrolled 8,852 students in 2010, compared to 8,824 this fall.

Elsewhere, some of the losses are stunning.

Cheyney University, the nation’s oldest historically black post-secondary institution, saw enrollment plummet from 1,586 in 2010 to 469 this fall -- a loss of 70 percent. Mansfield University in north central Pennsylvania experienced a 52 percent decline in enrollment, going from 3,411 in 2010 to 1,637 today. Elsewhere, decline in enrollment ranged from 11 percent to 44 percent.

The losses are especially troubling at the public universities that rely upon tuition for more than two-thirds of their revenue.

The latest enrollment numbers came as the system’s new chancellor, Dan Greenstein, crisscrossed the state on a tour of the 14 campuses.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, college enrollment nationally has declined every year for the last seven years as the economy improved and new high school graduating classes grew smaller. The most recent national numbers -- from spring 2017 to spring 2018 -- showed college enrollment down 1.3 percent, with the largest losses at community colleges and for-profit schools.

PASSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall said enrollment declines at the state-owned universities reflect a decline in the number of new high school graduates, especially in Western Pennsylvania; an improving economy that may be luring some students into the workforce; and the increasing cost of higher education.

“Cost, unfortunately, continues to be a challenge to some students and families,” he said.

PASSHE’s enrollment declines stand out, even in Pennsylvania.

The University of Pittsburgh, a state-related national research university, reported enrollment declines of about 3 percent between 2010 and 2017. It has yet to publish its fall 2018 enrollment numbers.

The new enrollment numbers will no doubt be a consideration as state system officials, university leaders and members of the system’s oversight board work on a new comprehensive plan to guide the system into the future.

“I think that we’re going to be looking at enrollment, costs and programs. It’s fair to say enrollment across the system will be part of the discussion,” Marshall said. “We know our graduation and retention numbers are better than those of similar universities, but all of the universities are taking a closer look at increasing enrollment, retention and graduation.”