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Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities see enrollment slide |

Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities see enrollment slide

Debra Erdley
| Wednesday, October 5, 2016 11:21 p.m

Total enrollment at Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities continued to decline this fall for the sixth consecutive year.

Fall numbers released Wednesday showed enrollment fell nearly 2 percent to 104,790 students, with only three schools recording any gains. Total enrollment losses for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education since 2010 amount to about 12 percent.

Many say demographics in Pennsylvania, where the pool of new high school graduates has been shrinking since 2008, is a major factor.

“There are just fewer and fewer high school students in our catchment basin,” said David Chambers, a political science professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Once the largest school in the state system, IUP recorded the largest single-year decline of any university and has dropped 15 percent since 2000. Fall numbers at the university 60 miles east of Pittsburgh marked the first time enrollment, which averaged more than 14,000 for the last 30 years, has slipped below 13,000.

Enrollment over the past year decreased by 922 students to 12,853 — even as a per-credit tuition program designed to help boost revenue and enrollment went into effect.

Faculty members, administrators and members of the admissions staff are well aware of the numbers, said Chambers, who has taught at IUP for 29 years.

“People could just throw their hands up, but they haven’t,” he said. “I’m impressed with what our admissions people are doing, but it hasn’t come to fruition yet.”

The continued decline in enrollment comes in the midst of a high-profile labor dispute with members of the state system’s faculty union who have worked without a contract for more than a year and are threatening to strike Oct. 19 without a new agreement.

Enrollment at four-year public universities across the nation has slowly increased overall since fall 2013, according to the National Student Clearinghouse in Herndon, Va., which tracks higher education trends.

Among Pennsylvania’s state-system schools, only Cheney University in Delaware County, West Chester in suburban Philadelphia and Slippery Rock in Butler County saw enrollment growth this fall of 4.9 percent, 2.4 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively.

West Chester is the largest and fastest-growing school in the system, with a 16 percent gain since 2000 to 17,006.

At Slippery Rock, officials said new academic programs, scholarships and a vigorous recruitment campaign helped set a record enrollment of 8,881 this fall.

“This is truly a remarkable achievement, especially against a backdrop of a continuing demographic decline in high school graduates,” Slippery Rock President Cheryl Norton said in a statement.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or

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