Universities and Fluctuating Student Enrollment Rates

Investigating the causes of the recent fluctuation in the university’s student enrollment rates.

     As the world slowly starts to recover from the pandemic, the many aspects of life that were ravaged by it have begun to follow suit. Public events are back in full swing, families are gathering again, and life as we know it has somewhat returned to normal. 

     But the one thing that still seems to be struggling to recover is education. Across the nation, many colleges and universities have experienced a decline in enrollment and retention rates. Many students are either entering college and leaving after their first year or are not attending college at all. 

     Enrollment affects much more than the student population. It determines how much funding a school receives, one of the most important factors behind a college’s success. Funding allows for things such as wages for professors, resources, and on-campus amenities such as transportation and tutoring services. 

     CSU is one of the universities impacted by the decline in enrollment and retention rates. I sat down with Dr. Fuchko to find out more about CSU’s enrollment rates, what the school has done to stabilize the fluctuation, some ways students and staff members can help, and how the community can act as a catalyst for change. 


The Demographics of Higher Education

     According to Dr. Fuchko, a lack of enrollment is not only plaguing CSU but has become a problem that is trending within the realm of higher education. 

     “There are fewer high school graduates today than in years past, and you start to see a trend where fewer people were born 18 years ago, and then in the state, you see there are fewer high school graduates,” he stated. 

    Within the state of Georgia and across the nation, the enrollment rates for colleges and universities have declined due to a decline in birth rates. So why are college-aged people either not enrolling in college or dropping out before completing their degree?

    A decline in birth rates is not the only reason for a decline in college enrollment. There has been an increasing demand for workers, and recent high school graduates are taking jobs at retail stores, fast food restaurants, and small businesses instead of enrolling in college.

     According to the Business Labor Statistics published in April 2022, the number of high school graduates who entered the workforce after high school was 66.9%, almost double the number of those who were both in college and employed.

    The percentage of college enrollment from 2020 to 2021 decreased slightly, going from 61.8% to 62.7%. According to the BLS, “Of the 2.7 million youth ages 16 to 24 who graduated from high school between January and October 2021, 1.7 million were enrolled in college in October.” 

     While this data does not directly link a higher demand for jobs to the decrease in college enrollment rates, it can indicate a correlation between a decline in college enrollment and an increase in employment. 


Increasing enrollment at CSU

     According to Dr. Fuchko, at one point CSU’s admission rate was 80%, meaning that students either remained at CSU or went to another USG school. Unfortunately, the rate quickly dropped by almost 15 points, leaving the university wondering what to do. The rate has recently increased by 6 points, but the problem has not been completely resolved. 

    “For Columbus State, we were down close to 6% last academic year. This academic year in the Fall, we were down 3% in our credit hours, and we are working hard to keep that trend moving in a better direction…we hope this spring to break even and hold it about the percent of last spring” stated Dr. Fuchko when asked about CSU’s enrollment statistics.   

     Community plays a large role in increasing and stabilizing enrollment rates. Working with admissions, Dr. Fuchko has created two initiatives, Cougar Scholars and Cougar Launch, designed to help students with the college admissions process and also encourage students to remain enrolled.

     Cougar Scholars was a summer program that allowed incoming freshmen to take an English 1101 course to help them adjust to the rigor of a college course. The average GPA of the students who completed this course was 3.4 percent. 

     Cougar Launch was a fall program that brought students in a week early before the beginning of the fall semester and allowed them to learn skills that would make navigating the college experience easier. 

     “I think when we are at our best, we are good at helping students, especially those who don’t know how to navigate the college admissions experience…we’ve got good programs to help students get through that,” Dr. Fuchko stated.