Pennsylvania state-owned university enrollment drops

A student walks on the Lock Haven University campus in Lock Haven, Pa, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

A student walks on the Lock Haven University campus in Lock Haven, Pa, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Total enrollment at Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities has declined to the lowest level in decades, according to data released Monday.

The State System of Higher Education figures indicate loss of another 5,000-plus students this fall, dropping the universities’ total enrollment below 89,000 students — a level not seen in more than three decades, dating nearly to its founding, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

PennLive.com reported that the percentage drop in enrollment was the highest in well over two decades.

System officials earlier warned state lawmakers and others that the 2021-22 year would be a “very challenging” one for enrollment, citing factors such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The system, founded in 1983, saw its enrollment peak at about 119,500 students in 2010, but saw the total drop to 94,000 last year. A review of system data indicates that the current total below 89,000 is lower than in any year since 1989, the Post-Gazette reported.

Chancellor Dan Greenstein said the drop likely stems from the pandemic finally catching up with the system, which had avoided the declines other institutions saw last year. He said anecdotal accounts point to the pandemic’s impact on family incomes and students taking advantage of $15 and $20 an hour wages some firms are offering.

“Obviously, they’re not long-term lasting kind of roles with limited mobility (for career growth) but you know there are all sorts of immediate economic benefits,” he told the Post-Gazette. But “given the students that we serve, I can understand.”

Greenstein hailed small increases posted by Mansfield and Cheyney, citing aggressive recruitment by Mansfield and funding Cheyney has available for student aid. He said it isn’t clear what effect the announcement of plans to consolidate six of the universities into two had on enrollment.

The state system universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock, and West Chester.

Officials announced in July that Bloomsburg, Mansfield and Lock Haven universities in northern Pennsylvania will form one institution while California, Clarion and Edinboro universities in western Pennsylvania will form the other, with names to be selected later. The changes are to be phased in starting later in 2022.

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