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Waning Traditional Student Numbers Leads to Search for New Customers

Pennsylvania’s state universities have been able to avoid major cost-cutting measures in the face of declining state funding due to consistent increases in annual enrollment numbers. However, state system officials are now predicting a second consecutive year of enrollment declines.

While the projected loss of roughly 1,500 students is considered a modest drop for the system, it is significant considering that the two years of decline come in the face of 14 years of increasing enrollment which saw overall enrollment climb 28 percent.

This decline becomes especially important considering the state system’s revenue is largely centered on student tuition and fees and state funds. If both major funding streams decline, there is concern as to whether institutions can continue delivering all their current services.

“Eventually, what you can’t compensate for with greater efficiency has to mean reduced services,” Patrick Burkhart, the head of Slippery Rock University’s campus faculty union, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The decline seems to be the result of the reduction in high school graduates coming through the system. According to a state system spokesman, Pennsylvania is expecting to have 5,000 fewer graduates at the end of this academic year than graduated last spring.

With the number of traditional students moving into higher education waning, perhaps higher education institutions need to change their focus to begin attracting higher numbers of non-traditional adult students looking for different services from their university than the 18-22 year old student would.