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Pennsylvania Public Universities Record Lowest Enrollment in Decade

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This fall, Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities saw the biggest one-year enrollment drop in over a decade, the state’s higher education system said Monday.

According to data released by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the total number of students at the state’s public universities now stands at a little over 88,000 — down by 5.4 percent since last year and continuing the enrollment decline for the 12th year in a row.

For PASSHE, which has been weathering an enrollment drop since 2010, this year’s catastrophic downturn could mean loss of revenue and more job cuts.

Reasons for Pennsylvania’s Enrollment Drop

“It looks like we’re having our pandemic impact this year as opposed to last,” system chancellor Daniel Greenstein told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I think the students that we serve have been more impacted.”

System officials said the pandemic dealt a death blow to schools already plagued by high attendance costs, depleting funds, and fewer in-state students. In addition, the proposed merger of Lock Haven, Bloomsburg, and Mansfield into one university and Clarion, California, and Edinboro into another also fell through. 

Officials also said the decline could have resulted from economic recession negatively impacting families’ incomes. Experts said students find $15 and $20 per hour wages more attractive than getting a college degree during an economically unstable period.

“COVID has had a real impact on the low-income, first-generation students of color — there’s no question about that,” CEO of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Mildred Garcia, said.

Enrollment Trends

Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which faced a decline of 760 students this year compared to last year, saw the biggest drop in enrollment. West Chester — the system’s largest university — lost 30 students and now has around 17,500 students enrolled.

That said, the enrollment decline is unevenly distributed with state flagship universities performing significantly better. Cheyney and Mansfield Universities recorded a spike in enrollment owing to aggressive recruitment and improved student aid plans.

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