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Published: Wednesday, 1/25/2012

Area colleges, universities post declines in enrollment

Recent trend extended in spring semester

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Enrollment at area colleges and universities continues to constrict, spring semester figures released Tuesday show.

The area’s higher education institutions experienced an almost across-the-board reduction in student population in the current spring semester compared with 2011. The causes of those declines, officials said, ranged from planned admission restrictions, changes to student aid, and links to the economy.

The University of Toledo’s campus shrank 2.1 percent, to 20,673 from 21,122 last spring, Larry Burns, vice president of external affairs, said. Undergraduate ranks fell 1.8 percent to 16,108. The drop followed a similar reduction in the fall semester, the result of UT’s ongoing plan to slowly increase academic standards. “We didn’t expect to make that up,” Mr. Burns said of the fall reduction.

For the past three years, UT has tightened admissions while maintaining its status as an open-enrollment school. The school now requires ACT scores from all students, which Mr. Burns said resulted in some not applying. And although UT will admit any Ohio high school graduate, individual colleges have grade requirements, another incentive for low-scoring students to look elsewhere.

The university has an eventual undergraduate population goal of 20,000. To meet that goal while it continues to increase admission requirements, UT plans to beef up recruitment of international and regional students.

“We constantly look at where are our growth opportunities,” Mr. Burns said.

Enrollment at Bowling Green State University also declined compared with last year, though for a different reason. Undergraduate enrollment at both the main and Firelands campuses was up slightly, to 16,117 from 16,068 last spring semester. But a nearly 9 percent drop in graduate students, to 2,409 from 2,644, washed that out. University officials said in the fall that planned reduction in graduate student aid caused the decline.

“Nothing here is a surprise,” said Albert Colom, vice president for enrollment management. .

Although the area’s flagship universities experienced modest declines in enrollment this year, one local school continued to add students. The newly renamed Lourdes University broke another enrollment record, with 2,409 students at the Sylvania school, up from 2,393 this time last year. The former Lourdes College reported this fall that it had its eighth consecutive year of growth.

“We are thrilled to have another semester of record-breaking enrollment,” Lourdes President Robert Helmer said in a statement, “and more important that students continue to choose Lourdes as their place of study.”

Local colleges, meanwhile, experienced across-the-board enrollment reductions, and some were steep.

Owens Community College continued to leak students at a steady clip, with enrollment down to 16,741 from 18,965 a year ago. Owens enrollment peaked in the fall of 2009 at 23,606 and has dropped rapidly since. As they did in the fall, Owens officials attributed the decline to a drop in demand for for-credit training by those in the work force.

Renay Scott, Owens vice president and provost, attributed the enrollment drop to fewer companies contracting with the college to train workers in courses that included college credits.

“Noncredit students don’t show in enrollment figures,” Ms. Scott said.

“In years past they would have asked for credits attached,” she said, citing cost cutting on the part of businesses that use the college to train workers.

Enrollment at Terra State Community College also dropped sharply compared with last year, to 3,343 from 3,541, a 5.6 percent reduction, said Lyn Sullivan, college registrar and director of institutional research. The decrease follows a smaller drop in its fall enrollment after four consecutive years of increases. Ms. Sullivan said the downward trend is a sign of a strengthening economy.

“I think we are starting to see people going back and getting jobs,” she said.

Mercy College of Ohio’s Madison Avenue campus’ population shrank 2.7 percent from last spring.

The college, situated near downtown, had 1,018 students this year, compared with 1,047 a year ago. School officials attributed part of the decline to a record number of students finishing degrees in December.

“Last year’s spring enrollment was exceptionally high,” Shelly McCoy Grissom, chief enrollment officer, said in a statement. “We’ve anticipated that the double-digit increases would wane, as enrollments historically ebb and flow.”

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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