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State universities, colleges, continue to see enrollment declines

Ken Lund

Federal data and some state reporting suggest that colleges are seeing declining enrollment tied to the pandemic.                

New data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, suggests that freshmen enrollment has fallen by about 4% nationally.

The drop was particularly high at public two-year colleges.

Enrollment had already been trending down but the pandemic has made those declines much sharper.

Bob Murphy is the Chief Policy Officer at the Michigan Association of State Universities.

“Right now the state universities in Michigan are expecting the pandemic is going to have up to a $1.2-billion dollar impact just through the current fiscal year,” he said. “We’re talking a huge impact through the pandemic.”

Murphy said the funding drop is related, at least in part, to decisions students are making during the pandemic.

“Certainly what a lot of folks were expecting as far as the pandemic, which is students were unsure of what to do, and they have made some decisions to stay at home or opt-out for a year.”

Murphy said the state kept flat funding for universities during the fiscal year 2021 and that has been helpful.

“The real big question is what is the federal government going to do in terms of another federal stimulus package,” he said. “It’s a question of how much and when and what for but it’s certainly necessary.”

Murphy said he rejects the idea that any of the state’s fifteen universities might consolidate.

“Retrenchment is the last thing a state that actually wants to be economically competitive in the future wants to do,” he said. “Public universities are important for building our way out of the pandemic.”