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Why enrollment has been reduced in WMU and in 9 other Michigan universities

Enrollment in Eastern Michigan University has decreased by almost 20 percent since 2013. Ypsilanti has eliminated four sports programs and more than 100 staff positions in the last three years.

Enrollment at Central Michigan University has decreased by 20 percent compared to a decade ago. Two years ago, he cut some 50 positions to balance the budget. And more could come.

"We can not escape the impact of our enrollment path in our financial resources, and we will have to make difficult and serious strategic decisions," CMU president Robert Davies wrote. , in a letter to the campus community on February 8.

At Western Michigan University enrollment has been reduced by 9 percent since 2008.

The state of Lake Superior, northern Michigan, the state of Saginaw Valley and the state of Wayne have lost more than 10 percent of their enrollments in the last decade .

Fewer students enrolled in public universities means less tuition money. That could lead to job cuts and decrease the presence in the communities.

And, as Governor Gretchen Whitmer noted in her State of the State address earlier this month, "a strong economy also requires a concentration of talent." She asked for a goal that night to increase the number of adults in Michigan with a college degree or a 60 percent certificate.

But 10 of Michigan's 15 public universities enroll fewer students today than they did five years ago. Those schools enrolled 300,730 students in the fall of 2013, according to federal data. This fall, it was 286,801.

In addition to that, the number of Michigan seniors in high school who graduated in 2018 decreased by 11 percent since 2008. It is expected that the Graduates will be further reduced in the next 15 years, in Michigan and throughout the Midwest.

A few selected public universities are challenging the trend, led by state flagships, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

MSU welcomed its largest freshman class in history with 8,400 new students and has increased its total enrollment by 8 percent since 2008. The UM Ann Arbor campus has grown by more than 5,600 students in the last decade, a 14 percent gain.

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Despite the decreases, "we have also seen that some (schools), especially in rural areas, do very innovative things to change enrollment trends," said Dan Hurley, Director Executive of the Association of State Universities of Michigan.

"Any talk in the big picture of whether Michigan has too many public universities simply because of the demographic challenges conveys a withdrawal attitude," he said. "There are so many things that are being done and so many things that can be done to face the challenges."

Why are universities shrinking?

Demographic changes and the The rising cost of college is driving the decline in college enrollment, said Richard Vedder, a retired professor of economics at the University of Ohio.

Those declines are pronounced in the Midwest and on the East Coast, and Vedder said it will only get worse in the next decade.

That's the prediction for Michigan. In 2018, 104,000 students graduated from public high schools here. By 2032, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education predicts only 84,000.

"Some (universities) will probably close their doors and others will try to merge," said Vedder.

Although closing a public university would be politically difficult, said Vedder, it is likely that state governments will not bail out when dealing with the rising costs of Medicaid and Medicaid. the inability to increase taxes due to competition from other states.

Eastern Michigan is not closing buildings, but it is allowing private providers to take over the services that the university once provided. In 2016, it privatized the food service and awarded the university a signing bonus of $ 5 million. The university more than doubled its reserves when it accepted a payment of $ 55 million to privatize the parking lot at the end of 2017. The privatization of housing for students could be as follows.

In the last decade, the i enrollment at Western Michigan University has decreased by 9 percent.

That decrease, along with state allocations that were reduced during the recession years and have not yet returned to 2008 levels, forced WMU to make budget cuts, said vice president of marketing and strategic communications Tony Proudfoot.

"The cuts have been handled by changing the way we do business on multiple fronts," said Proudfoot, in a statement.

Combined accounts and payroll departments of Western Michigan. The university switched to electronic invoicing and stopped printing and sending the registration invoices. He has left the positions uncovered, cut operating expenses, such as travel and supplies, and deferred maintenance of buildings.

"After finding all the possible efficiencies, we analyzed the enrollment and fees," said Proudfoot. "Our focus on efficiency has helped us contain the increases."

Enrollment a decade ago was $ 7,928. For the 2018-2019 school year it was $ 12,483, an increase of 57 percent.

Western is also working to improve its admission, enrollment and marketing strategies. For example, the university is accelerating its application process, studying the personalization of financial aid packages and developing ways to get involved with future students

"We are convinced that the demand for a WMU degree is stronger than ever," said Proudfoot. "When we look at the trend of our freshman classes in the last decade and compare them to the loss of high school graduates in Michigan, it's an almost perfect correlation. Our inscription reflects our environment, not the claim of a WMU title. "

The decline in birth rates means that it will not be easier for universities in the coming decades, said Nathan Grawe, a professor of economics who last year published the book "Demography and demand for higher education".

Suggests that universities focus on achieving that the students exi stent graduates, noting that many could offset decreases in enrollment through increases in retention.

"Yes, through our work, we can show students how their studies are moving them towards the goals of students' lives and support them in that search so that many more students continue to graduate from the competition, we will shore up the financial stability of Our institutions, "he wrote in an email.

Why MSU and UM are being successful?

Andrew Johnson and his father, Maurice, drove from Zion, Illinois, to eastern Lansing, covered in snow, to tour Michigan State along with a dozen high school seniors.

Johnson, 17, is studying at the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, Northwestern and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His father is fighting for Georgetown.

He was attracted to MSU for his various academic programs. Johnson said he is thinking about law school and wants a university that offers a clear path forward.

"The price," said his father, "is always a concern."

After a presentation on academic and extracurricular offerings, Johnson and the other future students put on their winter coats for a 90-minute campus tour.

Unlike other public universities in Michigan, MSU and UM can attract a significant number of students from other states with a wide variety of academic programs, scholarships and opportunities to study abroad.

The brand also plays a role, according to Jim Cotter, an enrollment management expert who served as admissions director for MSU for more than a decade.

"You have to see the role of alumni in recruiting, the role of athletics, the role of brand strategy in recruiting," said Cotter. "Being a Big Ten institution, you are part of a prestigious group of institutions."

MSU and UM are not the only ones that have grown in recent years.

Grand Valley State University grew by nearly 800 students, or 3 percent, since 2008. It also more than doubled the amount of money it gives students in $ scholarships. 21.9 million to $ 47.2 million. It is now the second most popular option among graduates of Michigan public high schools behind MSU.

Enrollment at Michigan Technological University is also stable thanks to the focus on science, technology, engineering and math degrees, said John Lehman, vice president of relationships and enrollments College of Michigan Tech.

On its website, Tech boasts that the average graduate earns an initial salary of $ 66,400.

"As students and parents are increasingly interested in what I get with this grade, we have responded with the following: the test is in the Pudding on wages, the ability of students to repay loans and get a job when they leave school "

How are they responding the increasingly smaller universities?

At Northern Michigan University, where enrollment has dropped by 19 percent in the last decade, the president Fritz Erickson called for innovative new programs.

One result: a new undergraduate program in medicinal plant chemistry that catapults graduates to the burgeoning marijuana economy.

"It is up to us at universities to make sure we offer the types of programs that meet the future needs of the students we serve," he said. Erickson.

A couple of years ago, at the request of the rector, Northern also started a program to study the decomposition of human remains in the cold, because nobody else was.

"We certainly have enough cold weather," he said.

Lake Superior State, up 22 percent since 2008, will also launch bachelor's programs in cannabis chemistry this fall. To attract students from outside the area, it is decided to make the enrollment the same for everyone, whether from Michigan, Minnesota or Manitoba.

Several schools are aimed at adults with a little university but no title. Eastern launched an online bachelor's degree in nursing three years ago, with a growth of 160 students to approximately 800 currently enrolled, said Kevin Kucera, vice president of enrollment management.

Wayne State is taking a different approach. Last year, he began recruiting former students by offering to forgive up to $ 1,500 in unpaid debts to the university if they start taking classes again. Of the first 59 students admitted through the program, nine graduated in December.

And after years of being "at the bottom of student outcomes," Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, said Wayne has improved dramatically graduation rates.

Of the students who enrolled at Wayne State in 2002, only 29 percent managed to graduate within six years, according to federal data. Among first-year students who enrolled in 2011, 47 percent graduated in six years.

Johnson also proposed addressing students who do not go to college directly after high school, about 40 percent of the class that graduated last year.

Across the state, only 30 percent of adults have a bachelor's degree or higher, he said, or approximately 1.49 million people

Nationally, 33.4 percent of adults age 25 and older reported having obtained a bachelor's degree or a higher degree in 2017, based on the most recent data from the Census Bureau.

What's at stake?

Michigan needs another 171,000 people with a bachelor's degree if it wants to remain competitive, said Hurley of the Association of Universities State of Michigan.

"We need more talent in this state, driven by more Michigan residents who have higher levels of postsecondary achievement," he said.

It has also become an expectation, said Hurley. In a survey commissioned by the association, 83 percent of Michigan residents said they expected their children to get at least a 4-year degree.

Tuition costs have increased. At public universities in Michigan, they range from $ 9,514 per year in Saginaw Valley to about $ 15,000 at the University of Michigan before financial aid is included. But Hurley noted that the price tag is much higher than many students actually pay.

And higher levels of academic achievement mean better paid jobs, he said.

"The most solid case in the last year has been the remarkable state competition around Amazon HQ2," said Hurley. The selection of Arlington, Virginia and the city of New York is an example of "how talent, among other factors, is a great driver to attract and retain economic activity."

Public universities are also vital to the communities where they are located, particularly those that serve rural communities.

That is the case of Lake Superior State and the city of Sault Ste. Marie, said LSSU president, Rodney Hanley.

"Of all the places where I have lived, of all the universities in which I have worked, the relationship of the university with the city is closer than in any other place I've experienced, "said Hanley, noting that LSSU is one of the largest Employers in the city and county of Chippewa.

That connectivity with communities makes preservation of universities a necessity, Hurley said.

"Choosing any university, especially those in more rural areas of the state, are the economic drivers of their areas," he said, noting that getting rid of them would have economic impacts, educational, cultural and social.

"We have challenges, but we have to be proactive to elevate and take advantage of these institutions, their resources, knowledge and talent in these regions instead of having a more recreational mentality".

Contact RJ Wolcott at (517) 377-1026 or Follow him on Twitter @wolcottr. Kalea Hall contributed to the reporting. Contact her at (269)832-9344 or

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