Kent State University talks recruitment amidst projected decline in future students

Grace Murray

Following an all-time high in enrollment, Kent State University officials focus on strategic recruitment plans amid a forecasted decline in Ohio’s public high school graduates.

According the U.S. Department of Education’s “Projections of Education Statistics to 2021,” public high school graduates are estimated to drop by 18 percent in Ohio between 2008 and 2021.

Though the decrease appears to be substantial, Kent State’s Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management T. David Garcia is not surprised.

“[Enrollment Management] anticipated the decrease by looking at demographics,” Garcia said. “Ohio is one of those states that has seen their economy hit more so than other states. We’re a state with manufacturing and industry… When people can’t find good paying jobs, they leave the state.”

StateImpact Ohio’s Molly Bloom said these statistics are based on past data, as well as population estimates, so it does not take into account possible future circumstances.

“I would think there are more detailed models they could use to do projections that could take more into consideration than this report does,” Bloom said, “but I think this kind of report is useful because it gives, sort of, a big picture look at things.”

The change in Ohio’s demographics caused Kent State to look at enrollment from a holistic standpoint, Garcia said.

Enrollment Management and Student Affairs has created a multi-faceted approach to ensure recruitment in the upcoming years that are said to be affected by the decline.

Garcia said Kent State is also looking to attract transfer, international and non-traditional students.

“International recruitment is huge,” Garcia said. “Many of these students will come here and will be full fee-paying students, so there is a huge market out there. [And] we are well ahead of other universities.”

According to data collected by Research Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, Kent State was home to 287 international undergraduate students in 2008. By 2012, the number of international undergraduate students grew to 1,391, nearly five times the amount in 2008.

In addition to international students, Kent State is planning on recruiting a bit closer to home – out-of-state students.

“We’re definitely looking outside of Ohio,” Garcia said. “We have to. But we have to be strategic before we go into another state. We have to fully explore the advantages and disadvantages of recruiting that state, and then putting the resources behind that effort.”

From 2008 to 2012, approximately 10 percent of Kent State’s undergraduate student population has been out-of-state students, while the in-state undergraduate student population has remained above 80 percent, according to RPIE.

“The number one thing we’re trying to do is retain our students,” Garcia said. “It’s much cheaper to retain than to recruit new students.”

Garcia’s plan to retain students appears to be effective, according to a press release from Kent State, as the Kent campus retention rate is 77 percent, which is two percent higher than last year.

Though retention and enrollment have improved, Garcia said he and his staff are not complacent.

“We’ve been in an upward trend, going against what other colleges have been experiencing,” Garcia said. “[But] in enrollment management you can never be comfortable and the reason being that the competition out there is stiff. [Students] want more. They want better.”

Similarly, Bloom said the Department of Education’s report could mean big changes in Ohio’s school systems.

“With fewer students, you don’t need as many buildings; you don’t need as many classrooms, so you see a lot of school districts shrinking,” Bloom said. “[But] these are just projections, there are a lot of changes that could occur in the intervening years.”

The Ohio Department of Education did not return calls by press time.

Contact Grace Murray at [email protected].