How colleges are navigating a new world of enrollment

National reports on enrollment show positive and negative signs
By: | November 19, 2019
Enrollment declines in U.S. higher education have also impacted the international student population. In response to a decline in applications from China, colleges and universities are ramping up recruiting efforts in a range of countries.Enrollment declines in U.S. higher education have also impacted the international student population. In response to a decline in applications from China, colleges and universities are ramping up recruiting efforts in a range of countries.

Some experts warn of a looming higher ed enrollment bust, but applications are not down everywhere.

Enrollment has fallen for eight consecutive years, but, using data from the National Center for Education StatisticsUSA Today and 24/7 Wall St. identified 100 colleges where applications numbers have climbed. Here are the top 10:

  1. Southern New Hampshire University
  2. Wingate University (N.C.)
  3. Grand Canyon University (Ariz.)
  4. Claflin University (S.C.)
  5. Stetson University (Fla.)
  6. Clark Atlanta University (Ga.)
  7. Texas State University
  8. Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus
  9. Colby College (Maine)
  10. Tarleton State University (Texas)

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A decline in births that began in 2008 has created concern for an enrollment beginning in 2026, Bloomberg reported in May. But not everyone will see a decrease: Elite schools will get more applications, national institutions will see modest declines, and community colleges will face the biggest drops, according to Bloomberg

National coverage of enrollment has shown positives and negatives. Enrollment at Georgia’s colleges and universities is increasing overall, though some schools have seen declines, the Associated Press reported this week.

In Massachusetts, officials remain concerned because 18 private colleges and universities have closed or merged in the last five years, according to WGBH-FM. The state’s legislature is currently debating a bill that would require greater financial transparency in higher ed, the station reported last week.

And Western Michigan University is rebranding in response to a 25% drop in the student population over the past 15 years, MLive.com reported. Administrators in October unveiled their Big Idea plan to boost enrollment. “The promise that we want to make to the world is that students who are masters of their fate and captains of their soul will change the world,” Tony Proudfoot, vice president for marketing and strategic communications, told MLive.

Another reason for the enrollment decline: Americans’ changing opinion of higher education. A survey in rural Nebraska found that “only 33% of respondents believed that increasing the number of people who get college degrees was necessary to build a strong economy, compared to 53% in 2015,” the Lincoln Journal Star reported. 


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Many colleges and universities are trying to hold the line on tuition increasesUniversity Business reported last month. For example, the San Diego Community College District hopes to sustain a free college tuition program for the 2019-20 academic year through a fundraising event, KUSI-TV reported.

And many institutions are focusing on improving services for the growing number of Latino college students. The percentage of Latinos continues to increase, and by 2025 will constitute one-fifth of all college students, according to National Center for Education Statistics data.

Colleges and universities are also responding to a drop in applications from Chinese studentsUB reports in its November/December issue. Institutions are spending more time recruiting in India, several African nations and even Europe. “We had to make a decision: Do we continue to recruit heavily in China, or do we go into other markets?” Katharine Johnson Suski, executive director of admissions at Iowa State University, told UB. “We’ve done both.”


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