Episode 128: College Enrollment in Decline?

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Today’s episode is going to be the final one of our Colleges in the Spotlight series because next week we are really getting down to the serious work of getting our rising high school seniors ready to apply to colleges. So, as we leave Colleges in the Spotlight, we want to take a look at a news story that might just be bringing good news to some of you. The story, which ran in The Hechinger Report and in The Washington Post at the end of June, was entitled “Universities and colleges struggle to stem big drops in enrollment.” Really, I said to myself. That could be great news for kids applying to colleges this fall.

Today’s episode will look at the national facts and figures of this new trend. Plus we will look at Ohio Wesleyan University–in today’s spotlight–a good small liberal arts college in Delaware, Ohio. Ohio Wesleyan enrolls about 1,700 undergraduate students and boasts an attractive 10-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. In the interest of full disclosure, my sister-in-law graduated from Ohio Wesleyan “some years ago” (that means more than 40 years ago) and, by all accounts, thoroughly enjoyed her time there.

And one final reminder: Don’t forget to get a copy of our new book, How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students–available at amazon.com. Quick and cheap! Your teenager is going to need it this summer when he or she might have some time to kill. We will tell you more when we get serious next week, so stay tuned.

1. The Facts and Figures on Enrollment Decline

Here are some of the facts and figures presented by Jon Marcus in The Hechinger Report article:

  • According to the National Student Clearinghouse, college enrollment has declined for five years in a row.
  • This year, there are 81,000 fewer U.S. high school graduates going off to college, which is a direct result of a decline in birth rate (particularly in the Northeast and Midwest).
  • Just over 18 million students were enrolled in colleges nationwide last spring–2.4 million fewer students than were enrolled in the fall of 2011, which was the most recent high point for college enrollment. I am going to say that over 2 million students is a lot of students to lose.
  • According to a survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, 58 percent of chief business officers said their institutions had seen a drop in undergraduate enrollment since 2013. (Although 58 percent is certainly the majority of colleges, it doesn’t mean that the statement is true for the most selective colleges–where it is likely not true, just to keep things in perspective.)
  • According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, over 400 colleges still had fall semester spots for freshmen and transfer students as of May 1. (Again, that doesn’t mean those 400 included the most selective colleges, but 400 is still a lot of colleges and every U.S. high school graduate does not, of course, attend a most selective college.)

What does the future hold? When will it all change? Not until 2023, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). Here is what The Hechinger Report article says about what will then be a “slow recovery”:

When it comes, [the recovery] will be [composed] largely of low-income, first-generation-in-college racial and ethnic minorities. These are the kinds of students institutions have generally proven poor at enrolling, and who will arrive with a far greater need for financial aid and expensive support. (quoted from the website)

So, colleges might not have an easy time of it as they work to stem the decline and turn enrollment around–not that many high school seniors and their families are going to be overly sympathetic about that.

Can this information work in favor of kids applying to colleges in the next few years? Before we consider what it all means, let’s look at the Ohio Wesleyan case study, presented in The Hechinger Report article.

2. The Story of Ohio Wesleyan

Hit with a decline in Ohio high school graduates, a prime recruiting ground for Ohio Wesleyan, the University took and is taking a number of steps to boost its enrollment, based on data that it looked at both from admitted students who decided to enroll and admitted students who decided not to enroll. Here are some of those steps:

  • Because the drop in male students was greater than the drop in female students, Ohio Wesleyan is adding two sports (and a marching band) to try to attract more male students.
  • Because students said they wanted more internship and more study abroad opportunities, both internships and short-term study abroad programs are being expanded.
  • Because new sources of students needed to be found, Ohio Wesleyan admissions staff members have been recruiting locally (in Cleveland), regionally (in Chicago), and much farther afield (in China, India, and Pakistan). In addition, the transfer process has been simplified so that students wanting to transfer into Ohio Wesleyan can do so more easily.
  • Because some undergraduates are concerned about where they will be going next for graduate study (Ohio Wesleyan enrolls undergrads only), articulation agreements with Carnegie-Mellon University and with a medical school have just been drawn up to make the transition from undergraduate to graduate study more straightforward–in at least those cases.
  • Because money is always an issue for students and their families, Ohio Wesleyan has budgeted more money for financial aid. In addition, “the University is considering freezing, lowering or slowing the rate of increase of its tuition and fees, which are now $44,690” (quoted from the article).
  • Because students are concerned about their futures, Ohio Wesleyan has been studying labor data and creating new majors in fields of high demand, including majors in data analytics and computational neuroscience. Ohio Wesleyan president Rock Jones was quoted in The Hechinger Report article as saying this: “We live in a really consumer-driven society, and to be honest a college is an investment. Families are much more discerning, and they approach it as consumers. That’s a cultural shift to which the campus has to respond.”

One of my favorite anecdotes from The Hechinger Report article is this one (and I think this will be particularly enjoyable for anyone who has friends who teach in colleges and who hear about the politics of higher education from those friends):

One of the greatest challenges, as at other places, has been to get buy-in from the faculty, who have to approve new academic offerings. Ohio Wesleyan invited faculty on the curriculum committee to meet with the financial-aid committee, giving them a sense of how serious the problems were and asking them for help in coming up with majors that might attract more students.

This doesn’t always work. One faculty member suggested a new major in sacred music, for example. “Some faculty have a very clear understanding of the issues,” [President] Jones said wryly. “Others, less so.” (quoted from the article)

3. More About Money

For those of you particularly concerned about financing a college education for your teenager (and who isn’t), consider this new statistic:

Small private, nonprofit colleges and universities this year gave back, in the form of financial aid, an average of 51 cents of every dollar they collected from tuition. That’s up from an average of 38 cents a decade ago. . . . (quoted from the article)

I guess that is good news for students and their families, but perhaps bad news for colleges that continue to try to make ends meet. Of course, there also has to be a point here when most colleges cannot give back almost everything they take in and still remain viable.

And while we could tell you stories of small private colleges cutting their tuition and, as a result, gaining additional students, here is one public flagship university story that could also prove valuable to some of you:

The University of Maine, in a state whose number of high school grads has fallen 9 percent since 2011, offered admission to students from elsewhere at the same in-state price they would have paid to attend their home flagships; that has attracted more than 1,000 new students for the semester that begins this fall, from all of the other New England states plus California, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (quoted from the article)

We have talked about these kinds of arrangements with public universities in previous USACollegeChat episodes and in our most recent book, where we mention that some public universities provide generous discounts to students from contiguous states or to students in the region. The University of Maine seems to have found a way to expand that idea nationwide and win more students as a result.

4. What’s It All Mean for You?

So, what does all this mean for you and your own teenager? Well, let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that your kid’s chances of getting into an Ivy League school or any other top-tier college are any better now than they were before you listened to this episode. Whatever happens to the number of high school students in the U.S. and no matter what the decline is in the number of high school graduates statewide in your state or nationwide, our nation’s most selective colleges are not going to feel the pinch. That is just our opinion, but it is probably right.

It is also likely true that the top public flagship universities are not going to feel the pinch, either–like the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of California, Berkeley, and another five or 10 more. Why? Because those top flagships attract students from across the nation, and there will always be enough students with good enough grades to fill the best public universities.

But here is the good news. Your teenager might have a better chance now of getting into a good small private college–and there are plenty of those. If you have a super-smart kid, such a college could serve as a great safety school. If you have a kid with good, but not outstanding, grades and test scores, such a college could become a likely match rather than a reach school.

We have said for some time at USACollegeChat that our public flagship universities are the hidden jewels of our higher education system. And we are not taking that back. But now maybe we should add that good small private colleges might be the hidden jewels of our higher education system precisely because they will give you a better bang for your buck than you originally thought. Let’s keep that in mind next week as we move to the serious search for colleges for your teenager.

Find our books on Amazon!

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment below on the show notes for this episode
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

Connect with us through…

Episode 28: Colleges in the Great Lakes Region—Part II

We are continuing our series on looking at colleges outside your comfort zone by taking a virtual tour of public colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region.

Show notes for today’s episode are available at http://usacollegechat.org/28.

In our last episode, we started our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the five states in Great Lakes region: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our look into the Great Lakes states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities.

Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. No college has asked us to name it, and no college has paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

To be sure, some of the colleges we will name will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be appropriate.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable when reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment—but one that is good enough to let you know whether your child would feel comfortable there.

1. Private Colleges and Universities

The Great Lakes states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small liberal arts colleges to larger universities, including some of our country’s finest. Let’s start with a renowned private university, with a reputation for serious students: the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates in the College, which is dedicated to providing a comprehensive liberal arts education for its students through discussion and debate in the classroom. Along with the required Core Curriculum of humanities, arts, natural sciences and math, social sciences, and foreign language, undergraduates can major in one of over 50 majors. The University seems committed to making itself affordable to students who need financial aid, but your child would need truly excellent high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted.

Not far north from Chicago in suburban Evanston, Illinois, is the main campus of Northwestern University, well known for decades for its theater program, its Medill School of Journalism, and, more recently, for its competitive graduate business school. A member of the Big Ten athletic conference (like the flagship public universities in the Great Lakes states), Northwestern offers a traditional college atmosphere in a beautiful setting on Lake Michigan. With its 8,000 full-time undergraduate students (and just as many graduate students), Northwestern is certainly not small, but it is not nearly as large as its public colleagues. Like other good private universities, its tuition is high, and your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Moving over into northern Indiana next to South Bend and just 90 miles from the city of Chicago is probably the best-known Catholic university in the U.S.: the University of Notre Dame. Because of its excellent national reputation, it draws its approximately 9,000 undergraduates and its graduate students as well from across the globe. Notre Dame’s undergraduate students study in 65 majors in four colleges (arts and letters, science, engineering, and business). As befits a university that is “at once rigorously intellectual, unapologetically moral in orientation, and firmly embracing of a service ethos,” according to Notre Dame’s website, about 80 percent of students do some voluntary service-learning experiences. Notre Dame has an impressive 96 percent graduation rate—which means that students who start are highly likely to graduate, which is not true for many colleges, unfortunately. And we all know Notre Dame has a history of great football teams (can you say Fighting Irish?). By the way, we should note that about 80 percent of Notre Dame’s students are Catholic, in case that makes a difference either way to your child. As we have been saying, your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Let’s look at two small private colleges in Ohio, both of which have long histories and great reputations: Kenyon College and Oberlin College. Kenyon, located in the tiny town of Gambier, near Columbus, enrolls about 1,600 undergraduate students, drawn nationally and internationally. It offers 35 traditional liberal arts and sciences majors and prides itself on its small class size, typically about 15 students. One of Kenyon’s claims to fame is its support for the founding in 1939 of the literary magazine The Kenyon Review, by poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, who was recruited by Kenyon’s president for that purpose. Another is being named as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, according to a group of architects interviewed by Forbes. Another is the 34 NCAA (Division III) swimming and diving championships its men have won in the past 36 years. Another is its good theater program, with alumni/alumnae like Paul Newman and Allison Janney.

Oberlin College, located in Oberlin, near Cleveland, enrolls about 2,300 undergraduates in its College of Arts and Sciences and about 600 undergraduates (and a tiny number of graduate students) in its highly respected Conservatory of Music, the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the U.S. (since 1865). Offering 47 liberal arts and sciences majors and eight music majors in the Conservatory, Oberlin also prides itself on its small class size, with about 75 percent of its classes having fewer than 20 students. Oberlin has a proud history as the first higher education institution in the U.S. to adopt a policy to admit African-American students (1835) and the first coeducational college to award bachelor’s degrees to women (1841). Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either Kenyon or Oberlin.

A Look at 13 Interesting Choices. is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of a book entitled Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. Updated several times since it was first published, there are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions, but they all care deeply about individual students and strive to make the college into a community to support students. Many of the institutions have engaging and experiential aspects to their programs—such as internships, international and intercultural programs, and service-learning projects. Most of the institutions are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Interestingly, 14 of the 44 institutions on the list are located in the Great Lakes states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will want your child to attend one of them if you do. Here are the ones in the Great Lakes states:

In Ohio: Ohio Wesleyan University, Denison University, the College of Wooster, Antioch College, and Hiram College
In Illinois: Knox College and Wheaton College
In Wisconsin: Lawrence University and Beloit College
In Michigan: Kalamazoo College, Hillsdale College, and Hope College
In Indiana: Earlham College and Wabash College (one of the handful of U.S. colleges that still admits only men)
Because these institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a good high school record might have a decent chance of being accepted.

2. Colleges with a Special Academic Focus

In an earlier episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about colleges that have a special academic focus, like the arts or business or engineering. In our two-episode tour of the Great Lakes region, we have already mentioned two institutions that have well-known schools of music as part of the institution: the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington and the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College. But the Great Lakes region also is home to one of our nation’s finest art colleges: the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), located adjacent to the world-famous art museum in downtown Chicago. SAIC draws 3,200 students globally into undergraduate and graduate studies in a wide variety of art and design majors, including all of the visual arts plus fashion design, art history, arts administration, architecture, film and animation, art education and art therapy, and more—along with a full array of liberal arts courses. As with all colleges specializing in the arts—whether visual arts, music, or dance—applications require a portfolio of student work. So, only talented students need apply.

The Great Lakes region also is home to one of the relatively few institutions more or less dedicated to the study of engineering: the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in Wisconsin. MSOE offers 12 undergraduate engineering majors and four graduate engineering majors. In addition, MSOE offers majors in business, mathematics, and nursing. With an undergraduate enrollment of about 2,500 students, the typical class size is 21 students and typical lab size is 11 students. Its admissions guidelines concerning high school grades and college admission test scores seem quite reasonable, especially for an engineering school, which is typically very hard to be admitted to.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…
College life in the middle of a city vs. college life in the middle of nowhere
Questions colleges should answer for you, like what their safety statistics are
Questions you might want to raise about sensitivity to and accommodations for religious or cultural differences among students

Find links to all the higher education institutions and programs we mention at http://usacollegechat.org/28

Connect with us through…
Subscribing to NYCollegeChat on iTunes, Stitcher, or TuneIn!
Following us on Twitter @NYCollegeChat
Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
Inquiring about our consulting services if you need individualized help
Following us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nycollegechat

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…
Leaving a comment on the show notes at http://usacollegechat.org/28
Calling our hotline at (516) 900-NYCC
Emailing us at paul@policystudies.org to ask a question if you want us to answer it privately

We are continuing our series on looking at colleges outside your comfort zone by taking a virtual tour of private colleges and universities in the Great Lakes region.

NYCollegeChat's virtual tour of colleges in the Great Lakes Region part 2

In our last episode, we started our virtual tour of colleges by focusing in on the five states in Great Lakes region: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. We looked at public universities—both the flagship state public universities and other public universities in those states. In this episode, we will continue our look into the Great Lakes states by switching our focus to private colleges and universities.

Again, we want to make it clear that there is no statistical basis for the colleges we are going to name in each region. No college has asked us to name it, and no college has paid us anything to name it. These are entirely our own choices.

To be sure, some of the colleges we will name will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. Others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be appropriate.

Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable when reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment—but one that is good enough to let you know whether your child would feel comfortable there.

1. Private Colleges and Universities

The Great Lakes states have a wide array of private higher education institutions—from small liberal arts colleges to larger universities, including some of our country’s finest. Let’s start with a renowned private university, with a reputation for serious students: the University of Chicago. The University of Chicago enrolls about 5,000 undergraduates in the College, which is dedicated to providing a comprehensive liberal arts education for its students through discussion and debate in the classroom. Along with the required Core Curriculum of humanities, arts, natural sciences and math, social sciences, and foreign language, undergraduates can major in one of over 50 majors. The University seems committed to making itself affordable to students who need financial aid, but your child would need truly excellent high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted.

Not far north from Chicago in suburban Evanston, Illinois, is the main campus of Northwestern University, well known for decades for its theater program, its Medill School of Journalism, and, more recently, for its competitive graduate business school. A member of the Big Ten athletic conference (like the flagship public universities in the Great Lakes states), Northwestern offers a traditional college atmosphere in a beautiful setting on Lake Michigan. With its 8,000 full-time undergraduate students (and just as many graduate students), Northwestern is certainly not small, but it is not nearly as large as its public colleagues. Like other good private universities, its tuition is high, and your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Moving over into northern Indiana next to South Bend and just 90 miles from the city of Chicago is probably the best-known Catholic university in the U.S.: the University of Notre Dame. Because of its excellent national reputation, it draws its approximately 9,000 undergraduates and its graduate students as well from across the globe. Notre Dame’s undergraduate students study in 65 majors in four colleges (arts and letters, science, engineering, and business). As befits a university that is “at once rigorously intellectual, unapologetically moral in orientation, and firmly embracing of a service ethos,” according to Notre Dame’s website, about 80 percent of students do some voluntary service-learning experiences. Notre Dame has an impressive 96 percent graduation rate—which means that students who start are highly likely to graduate, which is not true for many colleges, unfortunately. And we all know Notre Dame has a history of great football teams (can you say Fighting Irish?). By the way, we should note that about 80 percent of Notre Dame’s students are Catholic, in case that makes a difference either way to your child. As we have been saying, your child will need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in.

Let’s look at two small private colleges in Ohio, both of which have long histories and great reputations: Kenyon College and Oberlin College. Kenyon, located in the tiny town of Gambier, near Columbus, enrolls about 1,600 undergraduate students, drawn nationally and internationally. It offers 35 traditional liberal arts and sciences majors and prides itself on its small class size, typically about 15 students. One of Kenyon’s claims to fame is its support for the founding in 1939 of the literary magazine The Kenyon Review, by poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, who was recruited by Kenyon’s president for that purpose. Another is being named as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, according to a group of architects interviewed by Forbes. Another is the 34 NCAA (Division III) swimming and diving championships its men have won in the past 36 years. Another is its good theater program, with alumni/alumnae like Paul Newman and Allison Janney.

Oberlin College, located in Oberlin, near Cleveland, enrolls about 2,300 undergraduates in its College of Arts and Sciences and about 600 undergraduates (and a tiny number of graduate students) in its highly respected Conservatory of Music, the oldest continuously operating conservatory in the U.S. (since 1865). Offering 47 liberal arts and sciences majors and eight music majors in the Conservatory, Oberlin also prides itself on its small class size, with about 75 percent of its classes having fewer than 20 students. Oberlin has a proud history as the first higher education institution in the U.S. to adopt a policy to admit African-American students (1835) and the first coeducational college to award bachelor’s degrees to women (1841). Your child would need very good high school grades and college admission test scores to be admitted to either Kenyon or Oberlin.

A Look at 13 Interesting Choices.  is a nonprofit organization that was founded after the publication of a book entitled Colleges That Change Lives, by Loren Pope, a retired New York Times education editor. Updated several times since it was first published, there are now 44 colleges and universities profiled in the book and on the organization’s website. Those that are included are not necessarily famous institutions, but they all care deeply about individual students and strive to make the college into a community to support students. Many of the institutions have engaging and experiential aspects to their programs—such as internships, international and intercultural programs, and service-learning projects.   Most of the institutions are smaller colleges and universities that have proved to be successful at developing students both personally and academically so that they can succeed in life after their undergraduate college years.

Interestingly, 14 of the 44 institutions on the list are located in the Great Lakes states. You should read about them in the book or on the website, because you will want your child to attend one of them if you do. Here are the ones in the Great Lakes states:

Because these institutions are relatively small and thus are not particularly well known outside of their geographic region, it is my feeling that out-of-state students with a good high school record might have a decent chance of being accepted.

2. Colleges with a Special Academic Focus

In an earlier episode of NYCollegeChat, we talked about colleges that have a special academic focus, like the arts or business or engineering. In our two-episode tour of the Great Lakes region, we have already mentioned two institutions that have well-known schools of music as part of the institution: the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University Bloomington and the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College. But the Great Lakes region also is home to one of our nation’s finest art colleges: the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), located adjacent to the world-famous art museum in downtown Chicago. SAIC draws 3,200 students globally into undergraduate and graduate studies in a wide variety of art and design majors, including all of the visual arts plus fashion design, art history, arts administration, architecture, film and animation, art education and art therapy, and more—along with a full array of liberal arts courses. As with all colleges specializing in the arts—whether visual arts, music, or dance—applications require a portfolio of student work. So, only talented students need apply.

The Great Lakes region also is home to one of the relatively few institutions more or less dedicated to the study of engineering: the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in Wisconsin. MSOE offers 12 undergraduate engineering majors and four graduate engineering majors. In addition, MSOE offers majors in business, mathematics, and nursing. With an undergraduate enrollment of about 2,500 students, the typical class size is 21 students and typical lab size is 11 students. Its admissions guidelines concerning high school grades and college admission test scores seem quite reasonable, especially for an engineering school, which is typically very hard to be admitted to.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • College life in the middle of a city vs. college life in the middle of nowhere
  • Questions colleges should answer for you, like what their safety statistics are
  • Questions you might want to raise about sensitivity to and accommodations for religious or cultural differences among students

Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…

Outside of New York State

Connect with us through…

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…