Enrollment is dropping, but is that bad?

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Staff Writer

IU South Bend has seen a 15.4 percent decline in enrollment since the fall semester of 2012, but is it as bad as it sounds?

Joseph Roth, a Recruitment and Retention Counselor in the Making the Academic Connection Office, said no. Roth believes that the enrollment drop is instead the result of many external factors, and that they are not necessarily bad.

Roth pointed to a variety of factors that could be playing a role, including shifting demographics, economic recovery and larger graduation rates, among others.

One major factor was the recent economic recession. During the recession beginning in 2008, many people found themselves out of work. “While people were out of work, they went back to school,” Roth said.

During those few years, enrollment spiked. However, as the economy slowly began to improve, those adults out of work found jobs again.

“In 2008 when the economy crashed, we had a huge uptick in enrollment,” Roth said. “But that number wasn’t characteristic of what we had for the decade. 2008 and 2009 were anomalies. Now that the market is in the upswing, more people are staying at their jobs instead of pursuing an education.”

Another large factor was IUSB shifting to a traditional four year school, and largely getting away from its two year programs. “Our bread and butter used to be students over the age of 25,” Roth said. However, over the past two years, the number of students 25 or older confirming their admission has dropped by 50 percent.

Cynthia Murphy, a Recruitment and Retention Officer in the Making the Academic Connection Office, agrees. She said that many of the students who were going for two-year degrees have since transferred to community colleges, such as Ivy Tech.

Murphy said that, in the interest of making college more affordable, students have been encouraged to split their degree path into a “two and two,” which means going to a community college to take general education classes, then transferring to a more traditional university.

“There was a strong emphasis to have two and two,” Murphy said. “We kind of lost all of our two year degree programs.”

Tying in to all of this is the recent push by Indiana University in the “15 to finish” campaign, which encourages students to take 15 credit hours a semester in order to graduate in four years. When students would go to school part time, they would often be enrolled on campus for more than four years.

“There’s been acknowledgment that, to keep debt low, and to keep the college educated workforce Indiana needs, we need to try and find ways for students to go full time, 15 credit hours,” Murphy said. “That has been much of the emphasis of the last two academic years.”

Another possible factor is the banded tuition that IUSB recently introduced. With this, full time students pay nearly the same price, regardless of the amount of credit hours they are taking.

“If you take 12 credit hours, you’re going to be selling yourself short,” Roth said. “If you take 18 credit hours, you’re going to be getting a class for free. More students are taking advantage of that. It negatively impacts enrollment, but for a positive reason.”

Roth said that another major factor in declining enrollment was the recent large graduation class of 2015. IUSB handed out 891 bachelor’s degrees in 2015, making it the second largest graduating class ever.

Murphy also mentioned that the increasing popularity of “gap years,” when people take a year off after graduating high school to assess their options, could also be contributing.

The situation at IUSB is a dilemma that many universities across the nation are facing. In an article by Alia Wong in The Atlantic, Wong reported that enrollment in colleges nationwide is down 1.7 percent compared to last year.

Across the eight Indiana University campuses, enrollment is overall up 3.41 percent from 2012-2016. However, when excluding Bloomington, which had over a 15 percent increase in that time, enrollment at the other seven campuses is down 5.6 percent.

One area that IUSB struggles with, when compared to other IU campuses, is retaining beginner students from their first semester to their second. IUSB retains 79.7 percent of beginner students to a second semester, which is only seventh best out of eight campuses.

IUSB’s effort to help retention is evidenced by the creation of the Titan Success Center, which is devoted to advising students on a number of issues. All freshman, sophomore and junior IUSB students are required to pay a $25 fee that directly funds the center.

Despite the declining enrollment, 2016 has seen a greater interest in IUSB. There was a 6.6 percent increase in beginner applications from 2015 to 2016, and a 7.8 percent increase in admitted students in that same time frame. However, IUSB has only enrolled 0.8 percent more students this year compared to last year.

While enrollment numbers are declining, Murphy said that there is not yet a cause for concern.

“At this point, it isn’t cause for undue alarm, but if we continue this downward trend, then that will necessitate broader university conversations about what is happening,” Murphy said. “We should be cognizant of it, but we should not be alarmed.”

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