‘Code-red moment’: Fewer people going to college in Minnesota could reshape higher ed, workforce

The university system has borne the brunt of the state's enrollment decline, falling by 50,000 students over the past decade.

The public university in this central Minnesota city was once the second-largest in the state, with 16,000 undergraduate students crowding its lecture halls, filling its dormitories and cheering on the nationally ranked Huskies hockey team.

Today, St. Cloud State University’s campus on the banks of the Mississippi River serves as a harbinger of the powerful forces battering the nation’s colleges and universities. Enrollment has plunged by almost half, tenured faculty have been laid off, the football team has been cut and a towering residence hall has been shuttered.

Colleges across the country have been losing students since 2010 as tuition increased, demographics shifted and Americans grew more skeptical about the value of a degree. In Minnesota, total undergraduate enrollment has plunged by almost a third to levels last seen in the late 1990s, according to the state Office of Higher Education, outpacing the more gradual drop in U.S. undergraduates.

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