- The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s enrollment fell 2.2% this fall to 82,688 students, continuing over a decade of steady declines, according to preliminary data released Monday.
- However, system leaders pointed to a 3.4% increase among first-time students as reason to celebrate. First-time enrollment across the system’s 10 schools now rests at 16,203 students.
- The system’s biggest declines were among two nascent colleges recently created through a merger of six financially struggling institutions. The Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania’s enrollment fell to 11,108 students, down 8.1%, while Pennsylvania Western University’s headcount dropped to 11,305 students, a decline of 11.5%.
Although the figures suggest enrollment challenges could ease in the future, PASSHE’s headcounts have been falling for a decade-plus. Its enrollment has plummeted from 119,513 students in fall 2010, representing a 30.8% decrease.
The drops also show that slipping enrollment still poses a problem more than two years after the system voted to merge two sets of institutions. California, Clarion and Edinboro universities consolidated to form Pennsylvania Western, or PennWest, while Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities joined to create Commonwealth.
Those consolidated universities had the largest enrollment declines, collectively losing nearly 2,500 students. Moreover, PennWest also saw a steep decline in first-time students, with their enrollment falling 20.5% year over year to 1,617.
The outlook was more rosy for Commonwealth, which enrolled 2,441 first-time students, representing an 11.8% increase compared to last year.
Overall, half of the system’s 10 colleges saw enrollment increases. And seven saw their first-time population increase. Those upticks were largest at East Stroudsburg University, whose first-time enrollment rose 21.3% to 1,399 students, and Cheyney University, whose first-time student enrollment rose 15.2% to 227 students.
“More freshmen and transfer students are choosing State System universities, and that is a very encouraging trend for the state-owned universities and our efforts to address worker shortages in Pennsylvania,” Cynthia Shapira, chair of PASSHE’s governing board, said in a statement.
Shapira pointed to the figures as evidence that the systems’ continual tuition freezes are encouraging students to enroll.
In July, PASSHE’s governing board approved freezing tuition for in-state students for the fifth year in a row
PASSHE is one of many public higher education systems struggling with enrollment. Since fall 2019, colleges have shed about 1.2 million undergraduates, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
In fall 2022, undergraduate enrollment fell 0.6% — another decline, but the smallest one since the pandemic broke out.