Kent campus’ enrollment continues to climb despite slight decline in regional students

Graphic by Audrey Fletcher.

Graphic by Audrey Fletcher.

Rex Santus

Boasting the largest freshman class in its 103-year history, Kent State announced Tuesday another year of record-breaking enrollment numbers for the main campus.

This fall, Kent’s campus welcomed 4,314 first-time, full-time freshmen — that’s up 5.8 percent from last year, according to the university’s official 15th day enrollment figures. Freshmen enrollment at the Kent campus has broken records two of the last three years.

“From our standpoint, it was expected,” said Wayne Schneider, director of Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness. “This is its highest enrollment in history … Retention rates are up.”

Aside from size, officials are touting this group as the “highest-achieving” batch of new freshmen ever, with an average GPA of 3.3. Both President Lester Lefton and Provost Todd Diacon released statements praising the quality of Kent State’s freshmen.

“More than 75 percent of our incoming freshmen have GPAs of 3.0 or higher,” Lefton said in a news release. “This is exactly what the state has asked us to do.”

Not all numbers are up. Total enrollment across the university’s eight-campus system has dipped slightly in overall enrollment, dropping from 42,513 students to 41,891.

“Regional campuses are experiencing what normally happens when the economy happens to recover,” said David Garcia, associate vice president for enrollment management. “As we see that economy improve with jobs, they start to see a decline in the enrollment. There’s not much you can do about that.”

In other words, potential students would rather work and make money than attend a regional campus. During a recession, the harsh job climate might prod people to go back to school.

It wouldn’t be surprising if enrollment at regional campuses drops even more if the economy continues to improve, Garcia said.

Despite losing some students, Kent State is retaining more of those it already has.

“In my 20-plus years experience in enrollment management, research will show that if you bring in a better-quality freshman class, they tend to retain at a higher rate,” Garcia said. “International students are maintaining their enrollments. We hope to see growth there.”

Retention has improved by half a percent on the main campus and by about 3.4 percent at the seven regional colleges.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but any is good,” said Randall Lennox, a researcher in the RPIE office. “We’re always happy to see that.”

In addition, the number of applicants has increased by almost 50 percent in the last five years, totaling in an all-time-high 21,711 applications. Just 14,514 applications were filed in Fall 2009.

The university’s growing popularity allows admissions to be more selective, but Garcia said students should not expect Kent State to expand much more.

“Our enrollment will be flat if not slightly up,” he said. “We’re not looking to grow significantly at the Kent campus.”

Contact Rex Santus at [email protected].