STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Pennsylvania State University’s president has been looking long and hard at national and state enrollment trends, and on Friday, he shared his analysis with the school’s board of trustees.
A drop in high school graduates with fewer of them college-bound, more students coming from families with less financial means, a decline in international students, and increased competition — they all add up to pressure even for a financially healthy school like Penn State.
“The finances on our campus are robust,” president Eric Barron said after making his presentation. “But there’s no doubt about it, you cannot avoid easily the fact that almost every county in the state of Pennsylvania has a decline in the number of high school graduates and, sadly, [those have] less propensity to go to college.”
Enrollment on Penn State’s main campus rose 1% this year to 46,723, but fell 3.2% at its other campuses to 27,939, resulting in an overall decline of less than 1%.
Among its steps to combat the trends, Barron said, the university has established a task force to focus on recruitment of international students. The school has relied on strong output from China and India, but as those pools wane, it wants to look at areas such as South America and Africa, Barron said.
Penn State also is redirecting admission staff to recruit in areas that are growing, including California, Texas, and Florida. Still, the university will maintain its commitment to a majority enrollment of Pennsylvania residents, he said. Fifty-eight percent of University Park students come from Pennsylvania.
Penn State also is easing the process for students to transfer from other colleges, he said.
Barron noted that the available pool of students includes more underrepresented minorities and that the campus has to work harder to recruit and serve them. In the past, it was a “moral” and “educational imperative,” he said. Now, he said, “this is a business imperative.”
The university hopes to involve alumni more with recruitment and develop better ways to lure students in its strong markets, including Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and the District of Columbia.
Also at the meeting, Penn State student Will Dunn said the Class of 2020 has decided to contribute its gift toward counseling and psychological services. It’s the second time in four years that students have aimed their departing gift toward mental health services.
It comes as the demand for services at college counseling centers nationally is growing. Dunn said the goal is to raise at least $25,000, enough to create an endowment.