Area colleges see modest enrollment increases, drops

Modest enrollment increases at area colleges and universities and drops at others this fall should be concerning for the region, an education executive says.

Schools like Miami University and University of Dayton are seeing small enrollment increases in their preliminary counts for the fall and others like Wright State and Wittenberg are expecting decreases.

Everyone should be concerned about enrollment at local colleges and universities because more and more jobs are requiring that people have a two-year or four-year degree, Cassie Barlow, president of the Southwestern Ohio Council on Higher Education, told the Dayton Daily News.

“Our economy is much stronger, flexible and resilient with a workforce that has obtained post-secondary credentials,” Barlow said.

Final enrollment numbers have not been released, but the slight uptick in enrollments at some schools could be an early indication students are returning to campuses following hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, many students put off college due to the pandemic. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, the percentage of 2020 high school graduates enrolling immediately in college declined nationally by 6.8 percent last school year.

Here’s what local colleges and universities saw in their initial enrollment counts:

  • Clark State College had an increase of about 1% in enrolled students this year compared to last fall.
  • Miami University reports 23,045 students are enrolled for fall semester, up about half a percent from last fall semester.
  • Cedarville University gained 3.6% more students than last fall.
  • University of Dayton says it predicts a record-high enrollment of about 12,000 students, up about 3% from last fall.
  • At Wright State, preliminary enrollment count fell by about 6% compared to 2020 preliminary numbers, with 11,469 students currently enrolled in the fall 2021 semester. However, the university says about 400 more students enrolled this fall than was expected. Wright State has seen enrollment fall for the last several years.
  • Sinclair Community College reports their initial enrollment is down slightly, to 15,714 students compared to 16,304 in fall 2020. However, Sinclair says they expect to continue to enroll students and expect to have about 18,000 students enroll in fall 2021.
  • Wittenberg University had 1,300 students enrolled as of Aug. 30, the first day of classes, down from 1,455 students in fall 2020.

College enrollment is critical to the state’s ability to predict how many qualified workers will be able to fill in-demand jobs in the future, according to Jeff Robinson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

“Students bring a wealth of talent and diversity to Ohio, whether they have graduated from high school here or are coming to college in Ohio from out of state,” Robinson said. “Of course, we hope their college experience in Ohio results in them staying here to join our workforce, which provides long-term benefits to the economy.”

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At Wright State’s finance committee meeting on Thursday, trustees and administrated noted the slightly higher enrollment than predicted. Staff told trustees they would like to remain conservative with spending, but they are cautiously optimistic about where the university is headed due to the enrollment numbers.

Sinclair said it has worked on expanding online classes and worked with students to ensure they were able to stay in school.

“In addition to the new and expanded student services, we continue to focus on flexibility for our students,” said Cathy Petersen, a spokesman for Sinclair.

UD cited a growth in online classes and online degrees as part of the reason enrollment did not fall, as well as transparent pricing and expanding support for transfer students, veterans and military families.

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“We also experienced significant growth in enrollment of international students and our online graduate programs continue to experience strong enrollment, as well,” said Jason Reinoehl, vice president for strategic enrollment management at UD.

Barlow said while higher education has changed in the last year, it’s not clear how lasting those changes will be.

“We are going through a rough time in our nation right now as we work through the challenges of a global pandemic and it is hard to recognize a trend at this point or to make any forecasts based upon the trend,” Barlow said. “I think we will need a few more years in order to fully analyze the impact of the pandemic to Higher Education.”

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