Following a national trend, enrollment has fallen at Pennsylvania’s state universities for the eighth consecutive year.
The 14 state-owned schools have seen an 18 percent decline since 2010, as enrollment in the state system dropped below 100,000 for the first time since 2001.
The system’s enrollment decreased by 4 percent since last year.
Cheyney University — the nation’s oldest historically black university — saw the steepest decline with a 38 percent drop from last fall.
Cheyney President Aaron Walton said he wasn’t surprised by the numbers. In fact, he anticipated the drop after announcing a school redesign a few months ago.
“I further indicated that we would shrink to grow, particularly as we raised our admission standards to levels that had not been seen here, probably in decades or maybe in its history,” he said.
Cheyney has faced serious hurdles in the past few years, from enrollment and financial issues to whether its accrediting body would close the institution.
Over the summer, Cheyney unveiled a redesign — including a new African-American-focused institute building on the legacy of the nation’s oldest historically black college.
“We made the announcement in July about the new partnerships with Thomas Jefferson University, Starbucks and Epcot Crenshaw,” said Walton. “We saw that as a way of reinvigorating the school and the school’s legacy.”
He expected enrollment to bottom out, in part because of changes to the admissions standards.
“We had basically an open enrollment process going on here and not a serious recruiting process,” he said. “And we brought in personnel this past summer that are very, very serious and expert in recruiting.”
Students and faculty aren’t discouraged by the enrollment drop, Walton said.
“It’s not a shock to people who are here on the ground that are seeing the changes that occur,” he said. “So it is perhaps more of a surprise for those who are not part of the day-to-day life university.”
He says full-time success coaches for freshmen and an upgraded academic center are also part of Cheyney re-establishing itself.
The coaches help students in all areas of their lives on campus and at home.
“Our students have come with a lot of issues that they’ve had to deal with in life, and part of dealing with academic issues is building holistically with our students,” Walton said.
He said the restructuring is already starting to pay off.
“Early results indicate that the projection forecasts are moving in the right direction,” Walton said. “We’ve had 566 applications for admissions for the fall of 2019, and they were close to zero this time last year.”
The university will find out Nov. 15 whether its accreditation has been renewed; without it, the university faces almost certain closure.
“This has been our year of refocusing and adjusting, and we’re going to continue to forge ahead,” Walton said.