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By the Numbers: Decreasing enrollment at Ohio U

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By The Numbers is a data driven investigative video series with the goal of explaining complex financial and data-based issues facing institutions. The first episode takes a look at the question that is on the minds of many Ohio University students: What is causing shrinking enrollment?

Smaller incoming class sizes, larger graduating classes and fewer students transferring into the university has left Ohio University a four-year — and ongoing — enrollment deficit. And if expert predictions ring true, the university will likely see a further decline in the student population in the near future.

Decreasing enrollment is an open secret

Since 2016, overall enrollment at the university has decreased. That year, about 36,000 students were enrolled throughout the entire university system, which includes graduate programs and regional campuses. But in 2019, the number of students dropped by about 3,000, according to enrollment data provided by university officials.

Additionally, between 2015 and 2019, the number of first-year students at Ohio U decreased by nearly 1000. If this trend continues, incoming freshman classes will routinely be smaller than outgoing senior classes.

The number of transfer students also decreased by about 25% between 2016 and 2019.

Ohio University continues to experience record enrollment rates on several fronts, although down slightly in overall enrollments from the past couple of years, which is something that we see trending not just in Ohio but within the national landscape as there are fewer students graduating high school,” university spokesperson Carly Leatherwood told The Athens NEWS in February 2019. 

High school graduation rates fall

Although high school graduation rates have declined in Ohio and across the midwest since the early 2010s, nationwide rates are expected to increase into the mid-2020s, according to data provided by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). 

 

Looking forward, the region could have occasional surges in students completing high school, but the number of graduates will generally continue to decline into the 2030s. 

The number of students graduating high school across Ohio is also expected to decrease by about 20,000 by the year 2032.

The race for enrollment

Other universities across the state are also experiencing a similar decline in student enrollment. Kent State University — a university similar in size to Ohio U — along with Cleveland State University, have both seen declines.

Miami University, Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati, meanwhile, experienced enrollment increases between 2014 and 2019. Bowling Green State University, however, is an outlier and maintains a steady enrollment.

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