Wittenberg, Clark State enrollment declines mirror national trend

Ian O'Donnell, assistant director of Admissions, and Carola Thorson, vice president of enrollment management, look over a booklet about transferring from one school to another. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Ian O'Donnell, assistant director of Admissions, and Carola Thorson, vice president of enrollment management, look over a booklet about transferring from one school to another. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The number of 2020 high school graduates that enrolled immediately into college last fall declined nationally by 6.8%, “an unprecedented one-year decline,” and transfer enrollment for spring 2021 declined by 7.9%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

Some of the drop was due to COVID-19 issues related to safety concerns for in-person students, ability-to-pay problems because of lost family income, and some choosing not to pay full tuition for online courses.

Wittenberg University saw a decline of 8.3% in fall enrollment from 2020 to 2021. Their fall 2020 undergraduate headcount was 1,445, compared to 1,577 in 2019, according to the university’s Office of Institutional Research.

Clark State College officials saw a decline of 5%, 271 students, between 2019 and 2020. Their fall 2020 headcount was 5,396 and their 2019 headcount was 5,667.

Nationally, the Clearinghouse data showed that immediate enrollment from high school in 2020 dropped 3.0% at public four-year colleges, 5.2% at private four-year schools, and 13.2% at community colleges.

“The new data show large enrollment disparities by income and poverty levels of high schools during COVID-19,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

“Students from disadvantaged schools are showing much higher rates of decline in college enrollment than their more advantaged counterparts. These findings further illustrate how the pandemic has reduced access to postsecondary education, particularly for students seeking more affordable options in the public sector,” he added.

Data also showed that the spring 2021 transfer enrollment decline is 3.8 times larger than last spring. Community colleges have the steepest transfer enrollment decline with a 15.2% drop, but transfer enrollment at public four-year colleges remain stable from last spring.

“Transfer enrollment declines this spring are largely attributable to lower enrollment levels last fall and a higher fall-to-spring attrition rate during COVID-19,” Shapiro said. “As the pandemic continues to shift the postsecondary landscape, colleges and universities would need to address the needs of the students who are most impacted.”

Wittenberg attributes the enrollment decline to the pandemic.

“Our assessment indicates that prior to the pandemic, we were on track to meet our enrollment goal back in March 2020, so at this point, we cannot attribute other factors to the decline we experienced along with many other colleges and universities,” said Carola Thorson, Vice President for Enrollment Management

Although the university’s enrollment dropped by 132 students, Thorson said they are pleased with the strategies they have in place to bring in another class this fall.

“All our standard assessment metrics are showing that we are on track to reach our enrollment goals. We also know that choosing to enroll in the first place is a very personal matter for most students, which is why we are working closely with all our accepted students and their families to answer their questions and affirm why Wittenberg is the perfect fit for their educational pursuits,” Thorson said.

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Clark State officials attribute the decline to several factors, including being in the middle of a pandemic and other COVID-19 impacts such as changed education plans, negative outlooks on future employment, and that some students need and miss the in-person service model so they are delaying enrollment, according to Dr. S. Dawayne Kirkman, Vice President of Student Affairs.

Kirkman said the college is doing several things to help address the decline, noting that they are an open access institution with one of the lowest tuition rates and that almost 75% of students receive some form of financial aid.

He said the college will continue their current enrollment management plan to work with high schools and their graduating seniors as well as community organizations for recruitment outreach.

Transfer enrollment that also declined during COVID-19 led to an “unprecedented 5.9% decline” this spring for continuing students, but there was little change in former students returning, the Clearinghouse data shows. Transfer enrollment declined for continuing students (-10.2%) at twice the rate of returning students (-4.9%), and continuing students transferring to community colleges decreased by 20.8%, 10 times the pre-pandemic rate.

The Clearinghouse data showed that COVID-19 caused a decline in transfer enrollment especially for White, Black, and male students.

At Wittenberg, officials saw an increase in transfer enrollment, which is in line with Clearinghouse data that shows transfer enrollment at public four-year colleges remain stable. Their spring 2021 transfer enrollment was seven students, compared to two in 2020, according to Ryan Maurer, Senior Writer and Web Communications Specialist. This includes two Black and five White students in 2021 and one White and one Asian student in 2020.

“We are finding that transfer students have found our continuation of in-person learning appealing. We believe this aspect, combined with our new Connections Curriculum and the implementation of transfer-specific scholarships, will continue to make Wittenberg a welcoming, supportive institution for transfer students,” Maurer said.

Clark State College officials saw a 9% decrease in transfer enrollment between spring 2020 and 2021. Their spring 2020 enrollment was 419 and 2021 enrollment was 380.

“Across the country and in Ohio, enrollment is down. With that said, our transfer student numbers are a reflection of enrollment at other institutions,” said Travis Binkley, assistant dean of advising services.

Clearinghouse data shows that White student enrollment declined by 13.9% in 2021 compared to 4.9% in 2020; Black enrollment declined by 10.9% in 2021 compared to 2.5% in 2020; and male students declined from 13.5% in 2021 compared to 2.8% in 2020, data shows.

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For spring 2020 to 2021 transfer enrollment, Clark State saw a 5% decline in White Students; 6% increase in Black students; and an 18% increase in Hispanic students.

This includes a 59% decrease or 16 students with more than one race; 11% decrease or two students categorized as other; and a 93% decrease or 14 international students, according to college officials.

National data shows that there is a decline in transfer enrollment for male students. At Clark State male student enrollment declined by 4% while the college’s female enrollment showed a decline of 12%.

Binkley said he feels the college has a strong marketing and academic presence, which in turn makes Clark State a top destination for any student deciding to transfer.

“We have been working with transfer students on an individual basis to award as much credit as possible. Our academic deans and transfer specialist have been great with looking at individual courses from transfer institutions to make sure we are awarding the maximum amount of credit hours. Right now, is a great time for any student to transfer to Clark State,” Binkley said.

To help with enrollment at Wittenberg, Maurer said they have a scholarship program, information sessions as well as recruitment.

“We have implemented a new transfer-specific scholarship program and have hosted specific transfer information sessions over the course of this year,” he said. “Transfer recruitment is led by our Assistant Director of Admission, Ian O’Donnell, who is thoughtful in the work he does with students who are making a decision to depart one institution and join the Wittenberg community. Ian assists the students in making connections across campus to make for a more seamless transition and beginning.”

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Prospective college students

Springfield City School District’s counselor agrees that the decline in college enrollment continues to be a part of the “fall-out from COVID-19.”

“I believe that all learning institutions, including high schools, two-year colleges and four-year colleges have had to think outside the box to accommodate the needs of prospective students,” said school counselor Carrie Frederick.

Carrie Frederick is a school councelor at Springfield High School. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Carrie Frederick is a school councelor at Springfield High School. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

“At Springfield High School, we make sure our students make the most informed decisions about their futures. We host several virtual college visits, have partnered with Wright State University to host a live presentation about the FAFSA for families, and constantly distribute college information to our students about campus learning styles for fall 2021,” Frederick added.

Global Impact STEM Academy’s numbers of student signing up for College Credit Plus has remained steady, but school officials do think students are making later decisions regarding college.

“We do believe that our seniors are making later decisions this year as to where they’re going to go, probably because the lack of being able to visit colleges face-to-face,” School Counselor Pam Clark said.

“And they’re probably waiting to make sure that the institutions are going to be face-to-face rather than totally remote,” College and Career Pathway Coordinator Dr. Jill Pfister added.

Dr. Jill Pfister, Global Impact STEM Academy College and Career Pathway Coordinator, left, and Pam Clark, the school's guidance councelor, talk with senior Laura Kamper about college next year. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Dr. Jill Pfister, Global Impact STEM Academy College and Career Pathway Coordinator, left, and Pam Clark, the school's guidance councelor, talk with senior Laura Kamper about college next year. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Facts and Figures

Wittenberg enrollment: Fall 2020 – 1,445; Fall 2019 – 1,577

Clark State enrollment: Fall 2020 – 5,396; Fall 2019 – 5,667

Wittenberg transfer enrollment: Spring 2021 – 7; Spring 2020 – 2

Clark State transfer enrollment: Spring 2021 – 380; Spring 2020 – 419

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