College costs are rising.
The economy, while slightly better, remains sluggish.
Perhaps it is no surprise area college and university officials seem undaunted by their latest enrollment figures, which show a continued downtrend trend or, at best, little change.
Of all the factors involved, the one that may loom largest is the continued population declines in metro Toledo’s K-12 system, leaving fewer incoming freshmen to replenish the ranks of college students who have graduated.
Officials said it’s a new reality they’ve come to grips with as they adjust budgets and scholastic programs to wherever the trend bottoms out.
“We’re exactly where I thought we would be,” Cam Cruickshank, University of Toledo vice president for enrollment management and online education, said of UT’s 3.8 percent decline in spring enrollment over a year ago. The spring semester enrollment is 19,037, down from 19,795 a year ago.
UT is pleased by its modest growth in online-only and international students. Though it is still analyzing trends, it believes interest in its bread-and-butter science, technology, engineering, and math programs remain strong, Mr. Cruickshank said.
It doesn’t have much data yet to support its belief that a mandatory, one-on-one mentoring program it began last summer for all incoming freshmen will help the university do a better job of retaining students in coming years. But Mr. Cruickshank believes that will be the case.
“We have been purposely recruiting students who perform better academically. Overall, I’m very pleased,” Mr. Cruickshank said.
UT’s 3.8 percent reduction is not exactly a turnaround, but it’s better than the 4 percent decline documented at this time last year and the 5 percent reduction in enrollment UT experienced between the fall of 2011 and the fall of 2012. Its enrollment last fall was down 3.3 percent over the fall of 2012.
Bowling Green State University experienced a combined 2.4 percent decrease, a 2.2 percent reduction on its main campus (15,709 students, down from 16,070 last spring) and a 3.2 percent reduction on its Firelands campus (2,188, down from 2,261).
That’s more than the 1 percent drop BGSU had last spring, when compared to the spring of 2012, but still relatively small. BGSU’s freshmen class that entered in the fall had an average high school GPA of 3.31, a university record.
“You always wish the enrollment was increasing every semester. But, of course, it doesn’t,” Joe Frizado, BGSU vice president for academic operations and assessments, said.
A key statistic, Mr. Frizado said, is that 91.5 percent of the fall’s incoming freshmen are still enrolled in BGSU, up from 89 percent a year ago. BGSU has historically retained 88 percent to 92 percent of incoming freshmen for at least a second semester, he said.
A popular feature on the main campus is BGSU’s Learning Commons, where students of all skill levels get free tutoring. It is used nearly as much by higher achievers trying to get the best GPA as those who traditionally need tutoring, Mr. Frizado said.
Lourdes University had the largest drop, percentage-wise. But the small, private liberal arts school in Sylvania ended up drawing 1,983 students, 33 more than its projected figure of 1,950 students. It had a decrease of 12.9 percent, down from 2,276 students.
Helene Sheets, Lourdes director of university relations, said officials attribute declines to the smaller pool of K-12 students entering college.
“Because of the changing character of our student body, it is important to look at credit hours as well as head count,” Dean Ludwig, Lourdes vice president of enrollment, said. “Credit-hour enrollment of full-time students increased by 1 percent this spring and credit hours of full-time students came in at 113 percent of our budgeted goal.”
Mercy College of Ohio saw virtually no change, with 987 students enrolled this spring compared to 994 a year ago, less than a 1 percent decline.
“We continue to be pleased with the stability of our enrollment,” John Hayward, Mercy president, said.
Enrollment figures for Owens Community College and Terra State Community College were incomplete because both have staggered terms within the semester, meaning that some students won’t enroll and begin taking classes for weeks.
That’ll make declines less steep.
Owens is currently down 12 percent, with 14,587 students compared to 16,578 last spring.
Betsy Johnson, Owens vice president of enrollment management and student services, said officials are “re-energizing the institution in order to better meet the demands of the work force.”
Terra’s current enrollment of about 2,600 is about 13 percent less than the 3,000 who took classes last spring. But more students are expected to sign up by Feb. 10 and by March 17, when the final two terms begin.
The figure is based mostly on students who signed up for the first term that began Jan. 10. It doesn’t include several who signed up for the term that started Jan. 27, said Mary McCue, Terra vice president of enrollment.
Contact Tom Henry at: email@example.com or 419-724-6079.