Some win, some lose

Enrollment numbers at area colleges have been fluctuating.

Youngstown State University has seen a recent decline in student enrollment, down 5.3 percent this spring from spring 2012. YSU dropped to 12,966 students, down from 13,698 in spring 2012 and 14,253 in spring 2011.

About 79 percent of this semester’s enrollment – 10,184 students – are full- time, compared to 10,724 full-time a year ago.

“The first reason is that our spring enrollment is typically a mirror image of our enrollment in fall. If we are down in fall, we will be down in spring. We are down a little less than an additional percentage point,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Jack Fahey.

“With so much good news of the economy in our area in the last 18 months, we’ve had a significant decline in our adult students. The job market is getting better, and fewer adults are coming back to school,” he said.

Fahey also attributed the decline to a conditional admission program where at-risk students are required to take remedial courses immediately before being disqualified.

“We provided a great deal of structure and interventions to help them be successful, but at the same time, we shortened that window,” Fahey said. “We lost about 100 students.”

At-risk students also are required to meet more often with their counselors and academic adviser in order to take steps to correct their grades.

Other colleges and universities have seen an increase.

Eastern Gateway Community College, with seven centers including in Canfield, Lisbon, Warren and Champion, has seen an increase of 251 students from last spring, bringing this year’s total to 948 students from 697 last spring.

“We have a very unique situation,” said interim vice president Dante Zambrini, adding that the enrollment total only includes students in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

Zambrini said he expects enrollment to increase further with a large sector of students on the 19th, mainly due to flex classes, which enable students who drop out of a course in January to take credit hours in another course. The flex courses have longer class time but run in a more condensed time period, he explained, enabling students to maintain a full semester in a different time frame. Flex courses also are an advantage if a student’s financial aid is delayed.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment has been on an uptick over the last two decades. Between 1990 and 2000, enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 11 percent, and the number of full-time students rose dramatically from 2000 to 2010, with enrollment increasing by 37 percent.

Kent State University Trumbull is down 114 students this spring from last, bringing the total from 3,255 to 3,141.

Despite the small decline for spring, this is the third straight spring semester – beginning with 2011 – that the campus has seen enrollment surpass the 3,000-mark, according to official figures released Tuesday.

“With the improving job prospects, we expected our enrollment to decrease slightly,” said Kent Trumbull dean Robert Sines. “I believe more individuals are seeing the advantages to getting a university education. We certainly would like to see more residents getting a degree, but are still pleased to be providing our citizens with an opportunity to be better prepared for employment in the future.”

Tim Ritter, director of enrollment management and student services, agreed.

“Most of our students are non-traditional, and a lot of the non-traditional students, as you can imagine, are choosing to go back to work as opposed to school as the economy picks back up a little bit,” he said.

Ritter said the university has taken steps to reach out to students to remind them to register; however, if a student has already decided to return to work, a postcard or phone call probably won’t help.

“We haven’t started registration yet for fall, so it’s too early to tell, but we’re obviously hoping (enrollment) will be up over this fall,” he said.

Students offered various reasons why enrollment may be down.

“Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that tuition has gone up quite drastically,” YSU sophomore Bradley Weaver, 23, said. “The first semester that I attended YSU was somewhere around $3,000. Now, this semester alone is $4,058.”

In June, YSU trustees OK’d a $130-per-semester tuition increase for students effective this fall. The board set tuition at $3,856 a semester for full-time undergraduate students living in Ohio, or $7,712 a year.

Weaver said he’s considered transferring to another institution, but said he remains at YSU because it is the only local school that offers his major, telecommunications.

Sophomore Kim Durkos, 27, also attributes the enrollment drop to financial reasons.

“My friend dropped out last semester. He couldn’t make it to classes, and you get burned out. Once you get burned out, your grades slump,” she said, adding that her friend also found a high-paying job that didn’t require a degree.

Sophomore Brandon Smith, 20, said the economy is a big factor and that last spring he almost dropped out because he was out of work.

“I think it really depends on the individual,” he said.

Director of University Communications Ron Cole said YSU has taken steps to turn the enrollment trend around, and that some factors, such as the number of applications and the number of students who attend campus tours and open houses, suggest fall enrollment will be up in August.

“We are hopeful for the fall that we are going to have some better news,” Cole said.