Early Fall Enrollment Data Shows Mix of Success and Difficulty at 10 Universities |
Some institutions have seen a boost from the freshman class.
Having now fully emerged from the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities have either shown their strength to survive or their inability to thrive.
Enrollment numbers across the country, released early at many institutions, were all over the map to open the fall semester. Some, like the University of Santa Clara, have had the most new students in their 170 years of operation, while others, like the University of Northern Michigan, continue to show severe declines.
The dire situation of the NMU, which has lost more than 2,500 students out of a pool of less than 9,000 students in just a few years, led to the dismissal of its president, Fritz Erickson, on Friday. Erickson, who had held the post for six and a half years, was released unanimously, but he will remain a full professor. Erickson received praise from board member Steve Young and board chairman Tami Savoy for his work, especially for maintaining “a level of calm and stability during the pandemic”, but it didn’t was not enough to save his job.
“You don’t have to be sick to get better,” Young said. “I think we need more leadership and forward thinking in the area of strategic planning, more thinking and action on what we want this university to look like – not tomorrow or the next 48 hours, but in the next six years, 10 years and into the future. “
Young has been blunt in her assessment of the former president and the university as she seeks a turnaround.
“I believe we need more critical thinking and idea generation from the president’s office,” Young said. “In the area of registration, we need more. We need bold action. Falling enrollment is never something we should come to terms with. Rather, we should wake up every day thinking about how we can reverse this trend and grow. “
Successes and fights
Last year and even in the spring, enrollment figures released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed declines of about 2.5% nationwide (and nearly 5% in the spring), although some sectors were much more affected, in particular the two-year-old establishments. These declines appear to have continued in some institutions and have led to an unstable atmosphere in higher education, where the majority of executives have expressed concerns about the financial viability of their institutions.
While its foundation is solid, the University of Wisconsin system suffered a 1% drop this fall, according to figures released on the first day of classes.
“The past 18 months have been incredibly difficult, not only for our UW schools but also for colleges of all types across the country,” President Tommy Thompson said in a statement. “With abundant jobs and COVID-19 creating challenges, student retention has been particularly difficult for all of higher education. “
The University of Wyoming saw a 3% drop in enrollment, in part due to a drop in the number of non-residents.
“Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many students to stay closer to home to begin their university experience,” noted Kyle Moore, vice president of enrollment management at UW, in a press release from the university. “It has also resulted in a sharp decline in community college enrollment in Wyoming and across the country, impacting the number of transfers. The pandemic seriously hampered our ability last year to do face-to-face recruiting out of state and bring in non-residents for campus visits. We are redoubling our efforts to recruit out-of-state students while making recruiting Wyoming students our # 1 priority.
Early enrollment figures at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University show drops of 2% and 4%, respectively, but freshmen at both institutions are on the rise . In the state of Iowa, that number is 6%. Public universities in South Dakota saw a slight decline in enrollment, although it was less than a few years ago.
“We are still seeing impacts from the ongoing pandemic,” said Brian Maher, executive director and CEO of the Board of Regents, in a statement. “While we are dedicated to providing a more normal higher education experience this fall, times are tough.”
While some institutions such as Lincoln University in Missouri are seeing steep declines (11%), others have survived the pandemic largely unscathed. In fact, some universities, like Santa Clara, have not only reported a record number of applications, but have backed them with solid numbers to open 2021.
Texas is a state that is seeing positive results. The University of North Texas reports a 4% increase in enrollments, while Texas Tech University is using a windfall from its new freshmen to publish its 13e consecutive year of rising figures. According to Austin American-Stateman, the University of Texas system again set a record for the number of Hispanic undergraduates.
Higher education leaders are expected to find out more in the weeks and months about the status of enrollments when the Clearinghouse releases the first in its series of annual reports.