Declining enrollment trend a cloud on PSSHE

Enrollment at the 14 state-owned universities in Pennsylvania is down by 4 percent this year, including nearly 38 percent at Cheyney University, the nation’s oldest historically black college.

This is the latest batch of bad news for our state universities system, as enrollment has been falling for eight years.

The latest drop leaves the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which also includes Bloomsburg, California, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester universities at fewer than 100,000 students for the first time since 2001.

Student numbers peaked at nearly 120,000 in 2010 to the present number of 98,000.

That’s a dangerous trend because declining enrollment has budget and personnel implications for all of the schools.

They receive very fair state allocations to support those budgets, but they need to maintain enrollments to keep their budgets from fiscal disaster.

The most critical looming impact is on the state’s students, prospective students and their families.

These schools offer the most financially attainable chance at a higher education for many students and families in Pennsylvania with their comparatively low tuition rates. It’s not an easy tuition bill, but it’s certainly closer to what families can afford.

In many cases, without the state system opportunity, there would be no opportunity for a college education for Pennsylvania’s high school graduates.

And state government is in no position to simply hike its allocation to handle the student enrollment shortfall and keep tuition rates stable.

The schools need to redouble their marketing efforts and sell themselves as the best opportunity for quality education at a comparatively affordable tuition rate to many students in Pennsylvania.

We don’t want to see that opportunity go away. But it will take new energy and vision to keep these schools economically viable and at their level of excellence.