Editorial: Enrollment decline a competition problem | TribLIVE.com

Editorial: Enrollment decline a competition problem

The Edinboro State University campus

Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities need more students.

According to a census taken on the 15th day of class at the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education schools, total enrollment dropped 2.6% from 2018 to 2019.

That’s a continuation of a trend. In 2010, there were 119,513 students. Today the number is around 95,000. That’s a 20% decline over nine years.

It is just the latest example of the need for change at PASSHE and beyond in the state’s higher education landscape.

PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein pointed to the numbers as “why the State System is undergoing transformational change” and talked about national trends.

The national trends in higher education include rising tuition and student debt. Those problems seem more drastic in Pennsylvania, where student debt is among the highest because tuition is among the highest.

PASSHE officials say there are fewer kids graduating from high school as population declines and more competition from the big dogs like Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh and the smaller, yappy dogs that are the 90 or so private schools in the state.

But it’s hard to escape the reality of the price tag.

The average cost of a year at a PASSHE school for a Pennsylvania resident is $22,412 (including room, board and fees). That may seem like a bargain compared with private schools in Pennsylvania, like Washington & Jefferson (total sticker price $62,386), or state-related schools like Temple ($32,430).

But Clarion and Lock Haven and Edinboro aren’t just up against the local competitors. They’ve got state schools across the USA to contend with, where even out-of-state rates are attractive. Schools such as Florida Polytechnic ($15,976 total) offer the same tuition rates for residents and non-residents alike; Youngstown State just across the border in Ohio is about $12,700 all told.

Pennsylvania has great colleges and universities, big and small, public and private. They are a rich source of education, entrepreneurship and economic drive.

There has to be a way to make attending them affordable.

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