Enrollment at Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities continued an overall slide this fall for the ninth consecutive year.
A new census taken on the 15th day of class at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities showed an enrollment decline of 2.6% between 2018 and 2019. Overall, enrollment has fallen by 20% or just over 24,000 students since peaking at 119,513 in 2010.
The State System universities in Western Pennsylvania are California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock.
The nine-year decline is equivalent to the combined current enrollments of Indiana, Slippery Rock and Clarion universities. It is especially significant at the universities that rely on tuition for about three quarters of their revenue.
Officials say the numbers reflect a shrinking pool of new high school graduates in Pennsylvania as well as an increasingly competitive landscape among college admissions officers scrambling to fill desks and dorms in a state with more than 90 private nonprofit colleges and universities and three public research universities in addition to the 14 PASSHE schools.
The new numbers were released as PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein, who took over the helm at the struggling state system last fall, made the rounds at PASSHE universities across the state. The schools tasked with providing Pennsylvania’s most affordable option in higher education are now about two years into a comprehensive redesign.
“When we look at these numbers it underscores why the state system is undergoing transformational change. These are national trends that are only more pronounced here. So, we have a chance to lead across the U.S.,” PASSHE spokesman David Pigeon said.
Earlier this spring, the PASSHE oversight board voted to free the schools from a system-wide tuition model. The new model that will permit universities to set their own rates to reflect the local economy, the cost of living and program-specific needs, is set to take effect next year and will require schools to adopt a model that sets tuition for two years at a time.
“We still remain competitive. Our average cost, including tuition and room and board, is $22,412 a year, compared to an average of $36,108 a year for tuition alone at private nonprofit universities,” Pigeon added.
Nationally, college enrollment declined 1.7% between spring 2018 and 2019. The National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks college enrollment, found slight declines — about 9% — at public four-year colleges and universities and a 3.4% enrollment increase at private nonprofit institutions that enroll 3.8 million students, compared to nearly 8.1 million at public institutions.
Only West Chester University, now the largest of the 14 universities, grew over the last nine years. The school, located on the outer bounds of suburban Philadelphia, increased enrollment by 22% to 17,691 this fall.
In Western Pennsylvania, only Slippery Rock did not experience significant enrollment declines. The student population there slipped only 1% in the last nine years.