Enrollment decline leads to questions

Kate Bigam

Kent State’s campus certainly looks packed, but at least 1,000 fewer students are buying books and checking schedules than last fall.

Enrollment this semester is lower than administrators originally predicted, said David Creamer, vice president for administration. The original enrollment estimate was a 3 percent decline, but the actual figure appears to be a little more than 4 percent.

That 1 percent change may not sound like much, but because the university’s budget depends on student enrollment, any deviance from the original estimate can affect the amount of money available to Kent State, Creamer said.

Lower enrollment at Kent State could lead to less funding from the government, since state funding is partially based upon student enrollment, he said.

“It does have a negative impact. There’s obviously going to be less tuition revenue available, and it will translate into less state support,” Creamer said.

Despite actual enrollment, the university plans to go ahead with the budget they planned based on the estimated 3 percent decline.

“Our major goal is seeing if we can get through the year with the budget we’ve already built,” Creamer said. “We’re asking ourselves, ‘Can we avoid doing any cutting?'”

If cutbacks would need to be made, Creamer said he is not sure what programs would be the first to go. University executives would evaluate their departments and identify areas that could be scaled back.

Although the decline in enrollment is greater than anticipated, Creamer said it may not substantially affect the budget. What matters most, he said, is the retention rate, because the university receives more state funding for students who are further along in their educational careers – graduate students and undergraduates garner more funding than underclassmen.

Creamer said the decrease in enrollment is partially due to smaller high school graduating classes. Kent State is increasing efforts to recruit in other parts of Ohio, especially the central and southwest regions, as the population decreases in northeast Ohio.

“The stronger the image, the stronger our enrollment,” Creamer said.

He emphasized the importance of student retention, calling it the most important thing the administration can do for Kent State students and their families.

“You come here to be successful, and we want you to be successful,” he said.

President Lester Lefton agreed, saying one of his top priorities as Kent State’s new president is to focus on increasing the university’s retention rate, which is currently about 72 percent, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“My biggest concern is that we retain the students we recruit,” Lefton said. “Students who don’t complete cannot compete. The marketplace demands students with a baccalaureate degree.”

The Office of Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness will release official enrollment statistics in two weeks, said Sally Kandel, associate vice president for research, planning and institutional effectiveness. Called the “15th day statistic,” this official number factors in students who withdraw from classes or drop out within the first few days, as well as students who are listed as enrolled but may choose not to attend school this semester.

“I’m hesitant to release any numbers before that 15th day because number one, we don’t have access to the files,” Kandel said. “And number two, the numbers don’t mean anything before the 15th day.”

Contact administration reporter Kate Bigam at [email protected].