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Enrollment drops at local universities

May 20, 2019

By 2026, enrollment at state universities could have a 15 percent decline. Staff with universities within the area reported that they had seen a drop in the number of students at their campuses that is in line with that forecast.

Nathan Grawe, an economics professor at Carleton College, recently testified before the state legislature on the matter. Grawe attributed the drop to a decline in birthrates that began in 2008.

“That means that we can foresee fewer college-aged young people beginning in the mid-2020s,” Grawe said. “And if college attendance rates remain unchanged, we can anticipated fewer college enrollment.”

Migration from the state has also played a role.

“As college and universities anticipate these demographic changes, effective responses can often be summed up: leaning into ever more fulfilling our missions,” Grawe said.

“For example, if we retain more students, there is less pressure to recruit new students. and if we continue to expand access and develop new ways to connect the curriculum with students’ lives after college, we can attract new student groups to offset reduced prospective student numbers with higher attendance rates.”

Representatives from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown did not provide enrollment figures for the publication of this article. But Ray Weible, spokesman for Penn Highlands Community College, did.

Weible said they have seen a 3.5% decrease in full-time equivalent (FTE) students over the last five years based on fall to fall numbers. Their full-time student count was 1,631 in fall 2014. By fall 2018, it had decreased by just a total of 57 full-time equivalent students, to a count of 1,574.

Walter Asonevich, president of the campus, tried to sound an optimistic tone about it however.

“Pennsylvania Highlands is uniquely positioned in an area that has not been well served by affordable public higher education, and we have an opportunity to grow our enrollment going forward for a number of years into the near future. The state average of 15% drop in enrollment may be an accurate overall number, but there are institutions that are growing enrollment as well as institutions that have seen their enrollments decline by more than 50% over the past few years.

“We believe Pennsylvania Highlands Community College has room for growth even as overall enrollments across the state are declining.”