Initial enrollment at Wright State down double digits from last year

Enrollment at Wright State University for next fall is down 13.6 percent so far, a number school leaders have been trying to turn around for years now.

The undergraduate student headcount for this fall so far is 9,086, compared to 10,517 students enrolled 11 weeks out from the start of the 2018 fall semester. These numbers do not include the Boonshoft School of Medicine, which had about 480 medical students last year.

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Tuition revenue is Wright State’s largest single source of income. Fewer students means less money flowing into the school, which is trying to recover from financial issues that forced it to slash around $53 million from its budget in fiscal year 2018.

The enrollment statistics were published by the university’s Office of Institutional Research, which creates a weekly report of enrollment figures that compare to the previous year. The report’s figures are likely to be discussed at a Friday meeting where WSU trustees will be briefed on the school’s fiscal year 2020 budget.

The report’s 2019 enrollment figures, said WSU spokesman Seth Bauguess, were not unexpected. But, it is a snapshot of the students currently registered and not a projection of what fall enrollment will be, Bauguess said.

Since fall registration is not yet complete and students are lost each year over spring and summer terms as they graduate out, Bauguess said the university’s total enrollment looks the lowest in the summer.

“Slowly, as the university progresses to fall, the week-to-week numbers improve,” he said. “Therefore we have a higher rate of students leaving the university than the rate of those coming in, which is feeding the regression.”

Despite the anticipated improvement, there’s a good chance fall enrollment will be down because the report’s numbers are down, Bauguess said.

A headcount is typically taken two weeks into fall semester, which is the official number Wright State and other state colleges are required to report to the Ohio Department of Higher Education. Along with undergrads, It includes the number of graduate students on each campus as well.

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The total headcount for Wright State’s main campus in 2018 was down more than 9.8 percent, or 1,563, according to statistics WSU submitted to the state. Total headcount at Wright State’s Lake Campus in Celina was up by just over 1 percent last fall, which amounted to an increase of 13 students.

With 15,558 students enrolled, the fall 2018 semester marked the first time Wright State’s total enrollment dropped below 17,000 in 11 years.

Wright State’s full-time enrollment peaked during the 2010 to 2011 academic year with 16,705 students. The high point was partially due to the fact that people were trying to obtain their degrees before a quarter to semester transition took place, officials have said.

Since then the steep enrollment declines have led school administrators and trustees to look for solutions.

Marketing to potential students has become a bigger focus for Wright State, which hired the firm Ruffalo Noel and Levitz to develop ways to boost enrollment, WSU president Cheryl Schrader announced last year. The company “partners with colleges and nonprofit organizations to help them enroll their classes, graduate their students, and engage their donors,” according to its website.

Until recently, Wright State’s enrollment projections did not use much data or analytics to predict how many students would attend the school, Walt Branson, vice president for finance said in March.

Before he arrived in September 2017, Branson said it appears the university would project its enrollment to match whatever its goal was. So, if WSU had a goal of growing enrollment by 5 percent, the university would project that’s what it was expected to increase by.

Projecting enrollment in that way is not “realistic,” Branson said.

“What we’re doing now is a much more analytical and data driven way to do it,” Branson said.

Similar sized schools are also facing enrollment issues. The number of Ohio high school graduations has been declining, which leads to fewer Ohio students enrolling in college.

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