Although the pandemic is starting to die out and the world is trying to pick back up, VSU is still struggling to increase enrollment numbers.
With the exception of a spike in fall 2020, enrollment has been down since the start of the pandemic.
The Budget Council discussed enrollment at the meeting that took place on Oct. 21.
Rodney Carr, former vice president for student success, said efforts were put in to find where students were going.
“The largest portion of increase we saw was the increase that they didn’t go anywhere,” Dr. Carr said.
Enrollment rates are not just down for VSU but the whole nation.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found the enrollment dropped by 1.1% this fall across the nation and 1.6% in public four-year schools. However, studies did show an increase in traditional and Latinx students.
“Being down 11.5% in enrollment instead of what we projected as a 4.4% reduction is a huge gap,” said Dr. Robert Smith, VSU provost and vice president of academic affairs. “Remember, every 1% in enrollment is about half a million in tuition.”
Enrollment numbers are not expected to increase next semester either.
“We are estimating right now another 1% enrollment decrease,” Dr. Smith said.
The Office of Institutional Research hasn’t released the data for the current academic semester, but the data should be available by the end of November.
Some contributing factors to VSU’s hardships are the requirement of ACT and SAT scores, post-degree job opportunities and the financial struggles of many families post-pandemic.
VSU reinstated the test-score requirements this past semester when many other Georgia institutions did not, including Wiregrass and Georgia Military College.
College graduates are also not guaranteed jobs right after graduation, so many people choose to go into the workforce straight out of high school.
Price of tuition is also a big problem for those who still want a college education.
The decline in enrollment could be attributed to the hardship that many Americans face. The economy took a hard hit after the pandemic, and while stimulus checks and other assistance helped, many people are still struggling with basic needs.
The Household Survey concluded in October 2021 by the Census Bureau found that 9% of Americans reported not having enough to eat, one-sixth of renters were not caught up on rent and one-fourth of Americans had difficulty covering usual household expenses.
While the current unemployment rate has returned to that similar to pre-pandemic rates, Americans are having a hard time catching back up.
VSU’s tuition rates (averaging $8,501 in-state and $15,410 out-of-state per semester) are not feasible for many families since the pandemic.
However, while face-to-face student enrollment has declined, the online enrollment continues to increase.
Dr.Carr said that the online program has already passed the four-year plan of enrollment. 658 students are currently enrolled in an online program.
“We enroll students every single day,” Dr. Carr said.
He expects to see a continue in increase of enrollment in the next semester.
“The goal for that online college is to add that stability,” Dr. Carr said. “There’s 67,000 some odd Georgians that attend institutions outside of Georgia 100% online that are paying twice what we are charging. That’s the group of students that we’re going after.”
VSU currently offers eight online programs.
Many faculty members are concerned that the online programs will cannibalize the traditional framework.
“Do we know among those new students we recruit who are younger how many of them would come here face to face?” Dr. Smith said. “We do not.”
The online program was created to encourage enrollment from older students who want to return to school; however, it has also received a lot of attention from younger students.
“[Students] got used to online learning in the pandemic,” Dr. Carr said.
There will always be students looking for the traditional experience, but some prefer to go online.
“If we didn’t do it, they are going to go somewhere,” President Richard Carvajal said. “We would rather them come here.”
Also, to combat enrollment decrease, VSU is working toward potentially providing certificate programs for businesses and their employees and breaking the three-credit-hour mold in some areas to encourage full-time workers and parents to further their education.
Written by Angel Davis, Copy Editor.