“Just like most institutions, we are driven off of tuition revenue students provide,” Reinoehl said. “It’s a significant portion of the overall operation.”
Ohioans make up around 80 percent of all Miami University students, 87 percent of Wright State's students, and 71 percent of Wittenberg's students, meaning the three schools stand to lose the most tuition dollars of any Dayton-area university. Miami and WSU officials though said their student body diversity, outreach and unique offerings stabilize their enrollment.
“Any institution dependent on tuition revenue must do some forecasting,” said Susan Schaurer, assistant vice president for enrollment management at Miami. “We have a responsibility to the institution to be strategic and to forecast what’s coming down the road.
RELATED: TUSKEGEE AIRMAN ATTENDED UD AND MIAMI
The University of Dayton is likely to fare the best as just 48 percent of its students hail from Ohio. UD enrollment management vice president Jason Reinoehl credited former UD President Dan Curran for the enrollment make-up.
“I would say we feel blessed to be where we are on this,” said Reinoehl. “Leadership is very important on this. (Dan) Curran was very attune to enrollment trends. I can’t say enough how important that is.”
Universities are competitive when it comes to enrollment which officials said has led to little collaboration to try to solve the problems arising from a decline in high school grads.
At the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education, there is a group focused on almost everything except enrollment, said president Sean Creighton. As high school grads start to decrease though, Creighton said SOCHE will likely form some sort of task force to address enrollment.
Fecher has proposed Wright State create its own enrollment task force as it’s the revenue source the university can control.
“The only lever you really have to pull at the university is the enrollment lever,” Fecher said. “You need to drive enrollment up and if that supply of high school seniors is going to drop then it becomes more and more competitive to bring those students to school.”
Diversifying student populations
To avoid sudden drops in enrollment, universities have tried to diversify their student populations, with UD being the most successful.
Around 13 percent of UD’s students come from other countries.
Miami and Wright State have targeted international students, which make up 11 percent and 8 percent of the enrollment at those two schools. Wittenberg has focused less on international students, with them representing just over 1 percent of students there.
Heavy focus on international enrollment can be risky though as Wright State officials found out this year when the university lost around 400 students from Saudi Arabia after a government scholarship there dried up.
“When you enter into the international system, every country is different,” Reinoehl said. “It’s complex and there’s a lot of risk but we feel it’s worth the risk.”
Miami, UD and Wright State have also tried to attract transfer students from community colleges such as Sinclair in Dayton. All three have transfer agreements in place and the University of Dayton and Wright State have branded theirs as UD Sinclair Academy and Double Degree.
“We need to make sure we’re reaching those transfer students at Sinclair and Columbus State,” Schaurer said. “We see that as an opportunity.”
One success Wright State officials tout is a focus on nontraditional students, which the university describes as military students, older students and working students, among others. Wright State tries to “meet students where they’re at” when they start college, officials said.
More than 2,500 new nontraditional students come to Wright State every year, according to the university’s web site.
“Making the courses and degree programs open to working individuals across the state is going to become more important,” said WSU Provost Tom Sudkamp.
Miami and UD recruit throughout the country for their students. Both have staff in other parts of the country, trying to attract students to Oxford, and Dayton.
Out-of-state undergrads make up more of the student body at UD and Miami than any other area university. Around 46.8 percent of UD’s undergrads are from other states as are around 30 percent of Miami’s main-campus undergrads, according to university fact books.
Attracting students from other states can be difficult, especially when universities are competing with big brands out West or in the Northeast, officials said.
“It truly is a community effort,” Reinoehl said. “Dr. Spina was in California earlier this month. They want to see more of our graduates out there.”
Spina told this news organization in November that he wants to expand UD’s “national brand.” Broader appeal is needed to thrive in higher education’s “hyper-competitive environment,” he said.
Certificates and retention
As universities try to grapple with the projected loss of one student group, they try to attract a new one. Certificate programs, which were once offered primarily at community colleges, are becoming more popular at universities, Creighton said.
“Universities are trying to get into that avenue,” Creighton said. “I’m even seeing more interest from private universities.”
Certificate programs target people interested in continuing their education and others interested in a new career path, experts said.
When it comes to a quick and easy injection of cash into a budget, Fecher said certificate programs might be the way to go. He attended a conference earlier this year where certificate programs were presented as an option universities could expand on.
While more programs may attract more students, universities plan to focus even more on trying to retain the students from year to year. A fear that enrollment could drop, naturally generates more pressure to increase retention, officials said.
“It will be more of a challenge,” Sudkamp said “It just makes us have to redouble our efforts.”