Matching a changing workforce, altering demographics

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Between Fall 2012 and Fall 2016, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) has seen a 10.51 percent decrease in overall undergraduate enrollment. Each of the 14 state universities, except West Chester University, has seen individual, steady declines in enrollment throughout the same time period. 

The schools with the largest declines are Cheyney University (-42.08 percent), Mansfield University (-25.21 percent), Lock Haven University (-22.62 percent) and Clarion University (-21.53 percent).

Edinboro did not go unaffected, as it’s lost 20.53 percent of its undergraduate student population since Fall 2012. 

West Chester University, although seeing growth (8.28 percent), is the only PASSHE university experiencing this sensation, thus begging the question: why are students leaving the state system?

“The most significant decline in recent years has occurred in the area of teacher education,” PASSHE Media Relations Manager Kenn Marshall said. “Over the last decade, the number of education majors across the system has declined from 17,744 (students) to 11,705.”

That decline in majors speaks to national trends, as according to the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. college students obtaining education degrees dropped from 106,300 (2004) to 98,900 (2014). And as stated later in this special issue, secondary school teachers and elementary school teachers are both listed as decreasing occupation opportunities within Pennsylvania.

While education majors have decreased, business management majors have increased since Fall 2007 by 15.91 percent, health professions by 49.22 percent and STEM majors by 17.9 percent. 

“In fact, the vast majority of new programs introduced in recent years have been in STEM and healthcare,” Marshall said. “The universities have worked very closely with employers in their regions and across the state to develop programs in these areas in direct response to workforce needs.”

On top of changing occupational trends, according to PASSHE’s “Strategic Plan 2020: Rising to the Challenge,” the state system must also “adapt to an ever-changing student population.”

The plan notes: “Pennsylvania’s prospective students are becoming more diverse in terms of age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, academic support needs, and prior academic experience (credits and credentials). Students’ expectations for how, where, and when they learn — coupled with a demand for education built around technology — create complex challenges for universities.”

Michelle Fryling, executive director of communications and media relations for Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said “demographics are certainly a factor” as to why enrollment has decreased. She also noted the high school graduation population in Pennsylvania, and especially western Pennsylvania, has declined.

In the 2007-08 academic year, there were 130,296 high school graduates, according to a document from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. In the 2014-15 academic year, however, that number had decreased to 123,774 high school graduates.  

According to the Fact Center on PASSHE’s website, between Fall 2007 and Fall 2016, the total number of students who were Pennsylvania residents at PASSHE schools also declined by 7.18 percent. However, the out-of-state student population has increased in the same time period by 12.53 percent. 

In addition, the Fact Center notes that since the 2007-08 academic year, state spending per full-time equivalent student has decreased from $4,776 to $4,052 for the 2016-17 academic year. These numbers are low in comparison to the national average of $6,948 (2007-08) and $6,966 (2015-16). 

Additionally, the “most common, full-time, in-state, undergraduate tuition rate” for PASSHE schools has increased nearly 40 percent since the 2008-09 academic year. 

In the 2008-09 academic year, the Fact Center reports average tuition was $5,358; in the 2017-18 academic year, it is reported as $7,492. 

Despite the increase, “The state system universities have the advantage of being, by far, the lowest-cost, four-year universities in Pennsylvania, especially when compared with private institutions or out-of-state universities,” Marshall said. “We will continue to work to keep the cost of attending our universities as low as possible, while also ensuring they continue to offer high-quality programs.”

When asked what Indiana is doing to retain current students and recruit more students, Fryling mentioned those changing career demographics. “We are changing our marketing initiatives a bit and continuing to contact students to make sure they know the advantages of an IUP education.”

By regularly reviewing our curricula and working with employers to develop programs that respond to their needs, the universities will ensure their programs remain relevant,” Marshall said. “Our graduates get jobs, usually in their fields of study.”

Dakota Palmer is the news editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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