Dean Lenker III – Staff Writer
CLARION, Pa.- In the fall of 2009, the enrollment totals indicated the university had just under 7,400 students. Since then, an average of 310 students fewer per year enrolled at the university. This data shows reflected in the current 5,224 enrolled.
Interim Provost Dr. Todd Pfannestiel thinks there is reason to be optimistic that this spring semester will boast positive enrollment numbers. This does not mean that the number will increase from the 5,224 who were enrolled in the fall, but rather that the decrease may be smaller than it was last spring.
The spring semester enrollment number is always lower than in the fall, indicated Pfannestiel. Students graduate, transfer or drop out between the two semesters, and by design the recruiting classes are strongest in the fall.
A smaller decrease between the two semesters can be taken as a sign of progress as Clarion University continues to work toward recovering from the recent enrollment decline. This is what Pfannestiel and the university hope for as they await the official results.
Clarion University is nearly two weeks into the spring 2017 semester, and enrollment numbers will be made official in the coming days.
As per requirement by the state, the 15th day of the semester is when the enrollment census is due for all schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). This year, that date is set to come on or around Feb. 10 after the drop / add process has been fully processed and the exact number of enrolled students has been determined. .
The university enrollment has dropped by 144 enrolled students from fall 2015 to fall 2016.
This trend has not been exclusive to Clarion. California University of Pennsylvania has fallen from just under 9,500 students enrolled in 2010 to its fall 2016 total of 7,584. Edinboro had just over 8,400 students in 2009, and reported 6,550 students last semester.
In total, there are 14,462 fewer students enrolled in the PASSHE system than in 2010, which makes up 12 percent of total enrollment in the state system. This number even includes West Chester University, an eastern Pennsylvania institution that has grown nearly 20 percent in this timeframe and eclipsed the number of 17,000 students enrolled.
These numbers indicate the slow and steady decline that has swept over multiple PASSHE schools in several areas of the state. This year, of the five western Pennsylvania state-funded universities, only Slippery Rock University experienced an increase in enrollment.
Several factors may contribute to this trend. One factor is the economic recession of 2008, which has had a lasting impact. Another is the overall increased prices of higher education. Most recently, the Pennsylvania budget crisis may have played a role in the continuing decline.
“The lack of a budget at the state level…it’s not our fault, but it’s our problem,” said Pfannestiel. “I’m sure it affected enrollment last year. Even though we saw this decline of 144, there were a lot of reasons that went into that. I am cautiously optimistic that we can turn this around for fall 2017.”
Even with the 144 student drop from the 2015-2016 school year, the Clarion University anticipated a steeper drop, said Pfannestiel. New infrastructure such as the Suites on Main and the University Theater are expected to continue to attract students in the coming year.
Additionally, the partnership with The Zimmerman Agency, a Tallahassee-based marketing firm is something the office of the provost expects to pay dividends. Its marketing strategy has brought a different method that implements social media and search engine advertising, and it remains to be seen how much success this partnership will produce.
Pfannestiel had this to say about the overall enrollment prospects going forward:
“Yes, we have come through some significant enrollment decline over the past few years. However, over the past two-year time period, we absolutely have been taking steps to make Clarion University relevant to prospective students and to the people that live here in the region.
“And it’s not that we weren’t relevant before, but you have to be constantly looking at yourself saying ‘what is our direction.’ I firmly believe we are going to see an enrollment turnaround in the coming fall semester because all of the efforts we put into it are going to pay off.”