By David Loomis
INDIANA – About that 26 percent enrollment decline at IUP since its peak enrollment seven years ago? It’s actually a 31 percent decline, reports the state system that manages IUP and 13 other campuses.
Last week, PASSHE reported headcount declines at most campuses and a systemwide enrollment drop of 2.6 percent since last year. But IUP’s one-year drop – down 8 percent — was the biggest of the bunch by far.
IUP and its sister campuses are not alone. Enrollments are falling nationwide as the ranks of high-school graduates fall, family sensitivity to college costs increases, questions about the value of a college education grow and the process of applying to multiple colleges eases.
In Pennsylvania, the marketplace for higher ed is challenging. The state hosts more than 90 private nonprofit colleges and universities and three public research universities, plus 13 other PASSHE schools. The populations in counties from which IUP draws many of its students continue to age and to slide. State investment in higher ed ranks near the bottom nationally, contributing to subsidized college tuition as a 2020 presidential campaign issue.
WHERE WILL IUP find new revenue? By attracting new students? Creating new programs? Increasing fees? Resorting to those traditional sources won’t be easy now as high-school-graduate and college-freshman headcounts are projected to continue their slide well into the 2030s.
PASSHE has freed its 14 campuses to set their own tuition rates starting next year, encouraging them to consider varying costs, household incomes, cost of living and purchasing power within their respective regions. (Western Pennsylvania hosts five of the 14 PASSHE campuses.)
For now, IUP’s total cost of attendance is the highest of all 14 state universities, according to a PASSHE analysis published in the April 3 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
HOW IUP ADJUSTS to the new PASSHE pricing policy should be a matter of concern beyond just the campus. The administration has a demonstrated capacity to apply positive spin to unwelcome news. But the community has a substantive stake in the university’s fate. IUP is the county’s single largest employer. Declines in enrollment and employment are evident in housing vacancy rates, sales tax revenues, traffic counts, for-sale signs and other anecdotal measures.
The symbiotic relationship between town and gown – the communiversity – impacts citizens and voters. The combined economic and employment footprint of the campus approached $1 billion in 2015, according to a PASSHE analysis.
LOCAL ELECTIONS are scheduled for Nov. 5, three weeks from now. The existential issue of the university’s life blood should be on candidates’ agendas and among their talking points. And the issue should rank high on voters’ lists of questions for candidates, too.
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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