Enrollment declines finally begin to stabilize, but has the damage already been done?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Cleveland State University, along with other colleges nationwide, have seen a tremendous decline in enrollment. Now, numbers appear to be slowly stabilizing, especially in Ohio.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports pandemic-driven enrollment declines were about 3% each fall beginning in 2020. As of spring 2023, the rate has, now, slowed to a nationwide 0.2% decrease in enrollment.

Colleges in Ohio appear to be following this trend. The question, however, is whether or not the damage has already been done.

CSU Enrollment

At CSU, enrollment numbers of both graduate and undergraduate students can be seen on the Headcount Dashboard, linked on the CSU webpage.

In fall 2019, the Headcount Dashboard reported that 15,656 students were enrolled at CSU, and 15,331 students in fall 2020. This was a 2.1% decrease in enrollment.

Taylor Casey, a senior at CSU majoring in urban planning, shared how low enrollment has affected her undergraduate experience. 

“I got two separate texts from the university at the beginning of August stating two of my classes were canceled for this fall. Those two classes were required for my major, which is urban planning, so it was frustrating that I was given no other options in terms of classes as I graduate this spring,” said Casey. 

Enrollment slightly increased in fall 2021 to 15,434 students. The most significant decrease was in fall 2022 with only 14,500 students enrolled, a 6.1% decrease from fall 2021. As of 2023’s fall semester, 14,118 students are enrolled at CSU—and the decline is only projected to continue, even if slow.

There will also be reduced expenses as a direct result of these declining demographics, as reported during the latest Faculty Senate meeting.

“Luckily, I was able to figure it out on my own, but the university has a habit of canceling students’ classes pretty close to the start of the semester and leaving them with no alternatives,” Casey continued.

Overall, CSU has experienced a 9.8% decrease in enrollment from 2019 to 2023, according to Headcount Dashboard numbers.

Enrolled students appear to be impacted by that decrease.

Other Ohio Colleges

Other colleges saw an increase from 2021 to 2022. Denison University enrollment increased 4% and Ohio Wesleyan University increased 5%.

Columbus State Community College undergraduate enrollment increased about 1% over the same time period. 

Ohio State’s enrollment fell from 61,677 in 2021 to 60,540 in 2022, a 1.8% decrease.

Otterbein University and Capital University each reported about 6% declines in overall enrollment from fall 2021 to fall 2022.

Miami University officials gave 18 majors with 35 students or less four opportunities to decide between as the university faces “unprecedented fiscal, societal and political challenges that are prompting very difficult decisions.”

These options were sent out two weeks before the start of the fall 2023 semester and included collaborating with other majors and departments to blend programs, combining stand-alone majors into one major with multiple concentrations, offering new courses or learning opportunities, and placing greater emphasis on a minor or certificate program.

Impacted majors at Miami University include American studies, art history, French, German, health communication, and gender and sexuality studies. 

The cuts are being made in response to a budget deficit brought on by low enrollment.

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