Pennsylvania’s 14 state-supported universities suffered another overall drop in enrollment, shrinking by a total of more than 2,500 students from last fall, the State System of Higher Education reported Tuesday.
The system has 95,802 students, down 2.6% from the same point in 2018, according to official numbers. That’s down nearly 20% from its peak in 2010 of 119,513 students.
Such numbers, said system spokesperson Dave Pidgeon, "speak to why it is so important to continue to find ways to keep [higher education] affordable and to keep it accessible.”
Many private and public universities have struggled to meet enrollment targets this year, as the number of high school graduates continues to dip and schools face more pressure about the price and value of a degree.
There were a few bright spots. Locally, both West Chester University, which has been growing , and Cheyney University, which has been fighting to maintain its accreditation, had enrollment increases.
The official enrollment count this fall at Cheyney, which is in Chester and Delaware Counties, reached 618 students, up 149 or nearly 32% over last year. Raising enrollment and stabilizing finances are key to the historically black university’s efforts to keep its accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. West Chester grew by 139 students, less than 1%, to 17,691.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania sustained the largest enrollment drop, down nearly 945 students or more than 8% from last fall. The school in Western Pennsylvania has 10,636 students. Other schools and percentage losses include: Lock Haven, 7.7; California, 6.4; Shippensburg, 4.9; Edinboro, 3.9; Clarion, 3.4; East Stroudsburg, 3.3; Bloomsburg, 2.6; Kutztown, 1.3; and Slippery Rock, less than 1%.
Besides West Chester and Cheyney, Mansfield grew by 2%, or 33 students, and Millersville by 36 students, less than 1%.
Pidgeon said the system has been encouraging its universities to explore growth areas, including adult learners, and to improve retention of enrolled students. The number of new students the universities brought in this year remained relatively stable; much of the drop occurred among continuing students.
“That shows just how important it is to focus on retention,” he said.
State system officials aren’t sure when enrollment will bottom out, Pidgeon said. Last year’s enrollment fell by an even bigger margin than the previous year — more than 4,200 students or 4.1%.