Fall enrollment in the state’s 14 state-owned universities fell again for the ninth straight year, and enrollment has declined by about 20 percent from when it peaked in 2010. However, state system leaders are hesitant to attribute the decline to any one reason.
Dave Pidgeon, director of public relations for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, says national trends in higher education are apparent in Pennsylvania – shifting populations, a decline in birth rate, and lower high school graduation rates. He said moving forward the state system will need to recruit non-traditional students and retain the students it does have.
“The time is now to reimagine what Pennsylvania’s public higher education system is going to be so that it better serves students, so that it remains affordable and accessible in all corners of Pennsylvania,” said Pidgeon.
He says one potential solution will be to shift focus to recruiting adult learners looking for upward mobility.
“Any a number of ways that adults want to enhance their careers, they can come to our universities, get their education, obtain a degree they have not had previously.”
Overall, the state system saw a 2.6 percent decline, Indiana University of Pennsylvania had the steepest drop-off with an 8 percent reduction.
The system is two years into a redesign process exploring how schools can be cost efficient with overlapping services rather than competing for students. In western Pennsylvania state-owned schools include California University of Pennsylvania, Clarion University, Edinboro University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Slippery Rock University. The 14-school system serves about 96,000 students.