College enrollment drops with switch to semesters

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College enrollment drops with switch to semesters

Preliminary Enrollment

School Fall semester 2012 Fall quarter 2011 % change*

Belmont Technical College 1,639 2,140 -23.4

Central Ohio Technical College 3,716 4,260 -12.8

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College 10,614 10,581 0.3

Clark State Community College** 4,778 5,139 -7.0

Columbus State Community College 26,725 31,476 -15.1

Hocking College 4,572 5,742 -20.4

Marion Technical College 2,773 2,892 -4.1

North Central State College 2,824 3,382 -16.5

The Ohio State University 63,058 64,429 -2.1

Ohio University 36,808 36,126 1.9

James A. Rhodes State College 3,883 4,050 -4.1

Sinclair Community College 23,563 24,987 -5.7

Southern State Community College 2,845 3,350 -15.1

University of Cincinnati 41,970 42,421 -1.1

Washington State Community College 1,864 2,211 -15.7

Wright State University 17,789 19,600 -9.2

Zane State College 2,797 2,909 -3.9

TOTAL 252,218 265,695 -5.1

*Rounded

** Still enrolling for a B Term, which begins Oct. 15

Enrollment dropped at nearly all of the 17 colleges and universities in Ohio that switched to a semester calendar this fall — after the schools invested more than $26 million over the course of several years to prepare for the switch.

The decline of nearly 13,500 students, though expected, is a financial hit for some of the institutions, which have come to rely more on tuition revenue as state aid dropped 18 percent in the last five years. The falloff in enrollment also is attributed to thousands fewer students receiving the federal Pell Grant because of eligibility changes, fewer Ohio high school graduates and an improving economy that has some choosing jobs instead of education.

“It’s typical for enrollment to dip in the first year of that conversion, but it stabilizes,” said Jeff Ortega, director of public affairs for the Ohio Association of Community Colleges.

The downward trend could threaten to set back progress toward a national goal for 60 percent of Americans to hold a degree by 2025. Although an official report on enrollment statewide will not be released until Oct. 1, some educators expect the number of students attending college across Ohio to decline slightly.

About 35.8 percent of Ohioans now have a college degree — too few to meet the demand for jobs in the future, college proponents say. Estimates are that 57 percent of jobs in the future will require a college education, according to the Lumina Foundation, a national nonprofit focused on enrolling and graduating more students.

“What we’re seeing in enrollment statewide is an indication that we all have a lot of work to do,” said Wright State University President David Hopkins. “We have to be relentless as a system of higher education to make sure we’re reaching as many people as possible.”

Ohio Chancellor Jim Petro made improving the state’s graduation rate a top goal. Fewer than half the students who enter higher education in Ohio graduate. Ohio Gov. John Kasich last week also charged college presidents with redesigning how schools are funded to encourage improving graduation rates instead of focusing funding on enrollment.

“We have to ensure that students who are enrolling are completing their degrees,” said Kim Norris, spokeswoman for the Ohio Board of Regents.

The calendar change to semesters was championed by former Ohio Chancellor Eric Fingerhut as a way for students to more seamlessly transfer between the state’s 37 public institutions. Students saved more than $46 million by transferring credit earned at less expensive schools in 2010, according to the Ohio Board of Regents.

Making the transition from a lower cost community college to a university is important as students focus more on how much debt they will accumulate while working toward a degree. Student debt nationwide now exceeds $1 trillion.

Hopkins said stories about exceessive student debt are “scaring people” out of going to college.

“The more people are afraid, the more we’re going to fall behind the rest of the nation,” he said. “There are affordable pathways to get a college degree with a lot less debt. We can help people do that and we’re committed to do that.”

The importance of a college degree in getting a job, especially during times of recession, is being stressed by higher education advocates. In the latest recession, more than 5.8 million jobs that required just a high school diploma were lost, but nearly 2.2 million jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or more advanced degree were added, according to the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

The recovering economy, ironically, is keeping some students from college.

“Some institutions have surveyed non-returning student to ask them why they are not coming back to school, and people are indicating, ‘I’ve got a part-time job. I’ve got two part-time jobs. I just can’t swing it right now,’” Ortega said.

Central State University, which was already on a semester calendar, believes the economy is behind its 14 percent drop in enrollment to 2,152 students.

“It’s just the economy, students being able to afford to return to school,” said spokeswoman Gayle Barge.

Sinclair Community College this summer projected a 20 percent decline in enrollment and launched several efforts to attract new students. They spent an additional $225000 on marketing and eliminated a $30 late fee for registering for classes.

Only Ohio University and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College made the switch to semesters without losing enrollment.

Ohio University and its branch campuses gained 1.9 percent in enrollment this year, even as the number of undergraduates on the Athens campus fell by 350. The university gained 800 students in its eLearning program.

Cincinnati State, which transitioned from a calendar of five 9.5-week terms to semesters, gained 0.3 percent. School officials attributed that to a new campus in Middletown and the success of its “Fast Track” events, in which a potential student can complete the admission forms, apply for financial aid, plan classes and take the required placement test all at the same time, said spokesman Bob White.

The University of Dayton, a private school, and Miami University, are expected to keep near steady enrollment with record incoming classes. UD’s incoming class is among the five largest in its history. Neither school underwent a calendar change this year.

Wright State and Sinclair, which both saw record graduating classes last year as students rushed to finish ahead of the semester transition, anticipated the drop in enrollment and both schools said they have the flexibility to respond to changing enrollment with part-time faculty.

The lower student population comes after years of record-breaking enrollment, which Hopkins said was challenging financially because of declining state funding, he said.

“I think we’ll be on a much more managable track,” Hopkins said.

If statewide enrollment is down, it would be the second year in a row the number of students has dropped, after falling 1 percent last year. Prior to that, enrollment had grown every year since 2005, according the board of regents.

The number of students ballooned 16 percent between 2007 and 2011 to more than 539,000 at public institutions.

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