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Provost’s perspective on the decline in college enrollment

By Iyee Jagne - For the Chronicle | Mar 12, 2021


SHEPHERDSTOWN — After decades of growth, college enrollment numbers have suddenly started to decline across the nation. Some of the decline is partly due to the current pandemic.

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, international students have been unable to enroll in U.S. colleges, and many other students have chosen to take the 2020-2021 school year as a gap year, as they anticipate returning to a normal college atmosphere in the future.

According to Inside Higher Ed overall, college enrollments declined 2.5 percent this fall. This is twice the rate of decline reported in the fall of 2019. Higher education lost over 300,000 students last fall.

Unfortunately, that nationwide decrease in enrollment has not left Shepherd University untouched, according to Shepherd University Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Scott Beard.

“The last three-to-five years, Shepherd has experienced an enrollment decline of 5-6 percent annually. In looking at the overall enrollment, there have been modest increases in our graduate programs and increases in continuing education or non-degree students that have been coupled with decreases in the traditional high-school-age population and transfer students,” Beard said.

“What is happening at Shepherd University is not unusual in our state and across the nation. Since 2011, many institutions of higher education have experienced continued decreasing undergraduate student enrollments, due to declining high-school-aged student populations across the nation,” Beard said. “Shepherd has been able to maintain strong enrollment numbers for in-state West Virginia students, but out-of-state enrollment has declined in direct proportion to the lower number of high-school-aged students in our surrounding states of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.”

According to Beard, Shepherd has a more difficult task than ever before, in trying to attract college students.

“Shepherd is no longer contending with only regional schools, but is now competing in a highly-coveted recruitment market with public, private and proprietary institutions from across the entire eastern seaboard,” Beard said.

Shepherd University has made efforts to stand out from its competition through a variety of ways, however. According to Beard, some changes that have been or likely will be put in place, include “increases in professional advisors, retention programs and support programs.”

“We have programs like the Student Success Academic, Road to Recovery program and more, to assist students with academic and life skills to allow them to not just survive, but to thrive!” Beard said, mentioning students can also take advantage of “new scholarships and new, fully online programs in the graduate area and with the Rn-BSN program starting in fall 2021.”