Cal U Old Main

Herald-Standard

California University of Pennsylvania’s Old Main building

California University of Pennsylvania saw a 6.4% drop in enrollment this year.

The drop is similar to the 6.1% decline the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education reported last year at the school.

Enrollment is 6,842 this year – 470 fewer than at the same point in the 2018-19 school year.

Cal U. spokeswoman Christine Kindl said the university has attracted a freshman class that’s stronger academically than its predecessors, with higher proportions of students who have GPAs of 3.0 and 3.5.

“We want to maintain our standards even in the face of a challenging enrollment environment,” Kindl said.

Overall, the 14 state-owned universities recorded a decline of 2,561 students since last year. Total enrollment across those universities was 95,802, or 2.6% less than last year, as of the 15th day of classes.

PASSHE spokesman David Pidgeon said he wanted to be careful about assigning blame on any particular factor, but pointed to “challenges higher education nationally and in Pennsylvania are facing.” Some of those are demographic, with declining birth rates and fewer students graduating from high school as likely factors.

Southwestern Pennsylvania’s population has also shrunk in recent years.

“Many counties, particularly where you are, have experienced population declines,” Pidgeon said.

Pidgeon said fewer students is one reason for universities to adapt.

“These numbers underscore the time is now to reimagine public higher education in Pennsylvania,” Pidgeon said.

PASSHE is several years into a “System Redesign” that began following a review in 2016 and ’17. Student retention is “one part of a very large picture” of those plans, Pidgeon said, with an emphasis on academic advising and helping students who could be at risk of dropping out. So is attracting more “adult learners” – like people in the middle of their career who need additional education to advance in their fields.

Slippery Rock reported a decline of 18 students that brought its enrollment to 8,806 this year.

Indiana University, which has 10,636 students this year, reported the largest percentage drop in enrollment, with 945 fewer students than a year ago. Those figures translate to an 8.2-percent decline in the past year.

Four universities – Cheyney, Mansfield, Millersville and West Chester – reported increases. The 139-student increase at Cheyney, a historically black college in Delaware County, represented a growth of 31.8% in the student body from last year and brought enrollment to 618.

At Cal U., enrollment has mostly trended downward over the last five years, with the exception of the 2017-18 academic year, when it rose by 3.1%.

Still, Kindl said that the university managed to attract more out-of-state freshmen this year as population declines in the area. University officials also want to keep students enrolled.

“Even though our overall numbers have declined slightly, we’re working very hard to raise the academic level of our incoming freshman, in part because we know that those students have a greater potential to remain with us until they graduate,” she said.

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