University attempts to boost enrollment: YSU student enrollment continues to decline, result of many influences and challenges

By Sydney Stalnecker and Elizabeth Coss

Youngstown State University has dealt with falling enrollment rates for three years in a row due to several factors. Demographic changes have largely impacted students coming into college all across the country according to Brien Smith, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. 

“Many areas of the United States — and the Midwest in particular — are undergoing demographic changes. A number of years ago there were fewer babies born, and so we’re seeing fewer graduating from high school locally, and that trend continues downward,” Smith said.

In addition to demographics, large graduating classes of high school students enrolling with college credit contribute to YSU’s enrollment decline.

Elaine Ruse, associate vice president for Student Enrollment and Business Services, explained how students achieving college credit in high school affects enrollment for colleges and universities. 

“You have a lot of high school students taking college courses through the College Credit Plus program, so they’re entering college with a lot of credits behind them, which basically means they have the potential to graduate faster,” Ruse said. “That’s a great thing for the students entering college and graduating perhaps in less than four years, or quickly, but that adds to the enrollment challenge that we face.”

With the ever-changing learning environment, Ruse said students are reconsidering everything which contributes to the decrease. 

“A lot of things have changed in the last couple years especially with the online learning that had to occur during COVID, and I think it has created an environment where students are really looking at all of their options,” Ruse said.

Although the 2019-2020 graduating class was larger than the 2018-2019 class, this was likely the last growth in class size for the foreseeable future. 

Mike Sherman, vice president for Institutional Effectiveness and Board of Trustees member, said how the university looks and how it’s marketed helps combat the enrollment slope. 

“We think about entering classes as individuals who are college-going or college-interested, and an opportunity we have is to better articulate the value and the quality of a YSU education at a very affordable price,” Sherman said.

According to Sherman, the university has prided itself on offering scholarship opportunities for students and aims to continue to fund those who enroll. Campaigns like We See Tomorrow help provide students with scholarships. 

“Of the $126 million that’s been raised through the We See Tomorrow campaign, about $70 million of that is scholarships,” Sherman said. “That is outstanding and astronomical and really unheard of in terms of that percentage of a campaign.”