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Student enrollment numbers are causing concern at Arkansas colleges even before the “enrollment cliff” hits in 2025.
Total student enrollment at Arkansas’s 11 four-year public schools and 22 two-year colleges rose 1.85% in the fall, according to preliminary figures from the Arkansas Department of Education. Arkansas. However, these figures are down 8.4% compared to autumn 2017.
“I’ll say we’re flatter as a state than anything else,” said Maria Markham, director of Arkansas’s Division of Higher Education.
Markham said if enrollment trends continue, some smaller colleges may need to consolidate to survive or cope with the closure.
“When you look at other states of a similar size, they have far fewer institutions,” she said. “If we continue down this path, if we continue to see declining enrollment, we’re going to get to diseconomies of scale for some of these smaller institutions. And they won’t have many viable options other than to merge or shut down, or really downsize and take a more focused approach to the programs they offer.
Markham said, however, that a recession or rising unemployment rates could encourage people to enroll in colleges and universities.
Most of this year’s student enrollment increases came at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, which reported a record 30,936 students in the fall. Without Fayetteville’s increase of 1,868 students, four-year colleges in Arkansas would have seen a slight decline in enrollment between the fall and last year.
“Enrollment is going to slow down,” said Michael Moore, vice president of academic affairs at the University of Arkansas system. “It’s really just a function of demographics. We are entering a period… called the “enrollment cliff”, which is projected following a drop in birth rates after 2008 and the financial crisis and is expected to strike from 2025.
To counter this enrollment cliff, some public colleges in Arkansas are focusing on recruiting students from outside Arkansas.
Colleges and universities in Arkansas aren’t the only ones seeing enrollment declines. Undergraduate enrollment across the country continued to decline in the fall compared to fall 2021, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in Herndon, Va.
“After two consecutive years of historically significant losses, it is particularly troubling that the numbers continue to decline, especially among freshmen,” Doug Shapiro, the organization’s executive director, said in a news release dated 20. october. “While the decline has slowed and there are some bright spots, a return to pre-pandemic enrollment levels is becoming increasingly out of reach.”
One of the biggest student gains in the fall came at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a 6.4% increase from fall 2021.
“We’ve become very, very popular both in-state and out-of-state,” said Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment management and dean of admissions at the school.
She said there were a record number of Arkansans in the freshman class. The University of Arkansas’ flagship school has also become admired in surrounding states and “as a great place to go and have a [Southeastern Conference] experience and have a great educational experience too.
The increase in enrollment was also helped by the fact that the university no longer required ACT scores for admission, a practice that ended in fall 2020, after COVID restrictions prevented students from pass the standardized test. Admission is based on the student’s GPA.
The university found that there was not much difference in its retention rates between students who took the ACT and those who did not.
“When we had minimal ACT, there were whole high schools we couldn’t get into in the state, [because] … nobody was qualified,” she said. “And now it’s opened the door for students who have GPAs of 4.0, who just aren’t doing as well as others.
“And our experience has been, as long as they do the required work, they have the courage, then their pass rates are just as strong as students with higher scores,” she said.
Arkansas State University at Jonesboro also reported an increase in fall student numbers. Its preliminary enrollment was 14,109 students, up 2.6% from the previous year.
“We grew in almost every area that was recruited to campus: first-time students, online students, graduate students, international students were up significantly,” said Bill Smith, director of communications at A-State. Arkansas State University’s Querétaro campus serves approximately 1,000 students northeast of Mexico City.
Recruiting Outside Arkansas
To attract more students to Arkansas, schools are looking outside state borders.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is hiring a recruiter who will live in Texas to recruit in that state.
“When you look at population growth across the country, Texas is one of the few states that has grown and will continue to grow,” said Kindle Holderby, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management at UA Little. Rock.
Additionally, the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, home to approximately 6.5 million people, is just a short drive from Little Rock.
UA Little Rock recruiters used to travel to Texas several times a year, but “if we have someone in the area, it’s quicker to get there, be seen several times a year, and create some of these pipelines for us,” Holderby said.
UA Little Rock reported 8,108 students in the fall, down 2.3% from the previous year. But there were highlights. The university reported a 29% increase in freshmen this year and transfer students increased by 7.6%, he said. UA Little Rock has 10 scouts who primarily focus on Arkansas.
“Once we continue to bring in similarly sized class sizes year over year, then that overall number will not only break even, but it will start to grow and the entire population of the university going to increase,” Holderby said.
The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville has three recruiters who live in Texas and one who lives in Louisiana. It also has recruiters that cover Kansas, Missouri, and Tennessee.
To help students once they enroll, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville opened the Cordia Harrington Center of Excellence in April, a 70,000-square-foot center for academic, financial, and social support for students. students.
McCray said the center helps with recruitment and retention.
At A-State, the school is focused on increasing enrollment in all categories, from freshmen to online students, said Thilla Sivakumaran, vice chancellor of Arkansas State University. and Director of its Enrollment Management and Global Engagement Division.
To increase the number of freshmen, the university relies on recruiters to build relationships with counselors and high school students to highlight the value of coming to the flagship Jonesboro campus.
He said he wanted to bring prospective students to campus for a tour and meet with faculty and other students.
A-State also offers support for students once they arrive on campus. “One of the things we’ve seen, especially post-COVID, is that students have come back… with a lot of needs,” A-State’s Smith said. “And we’ve been working really hard to revamp some of our support systems.”
He spent $700,000 to renovate what used to be called the Wilson Advising Center, now the Wilson Counseling Center, which will open at the start of the spring semester.
The university also spends about $1 million annually advising, retaining, and supporting its students.
“The strategy we’re taking from now until 2025 when the cliff hits is we want to expand our recruiting area, not just in Arkansas,” Sivakumaran said. “We added Memphis, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas.
“Because we believe we have a great proposition for students who are, especially first-generation students, looking for a home and a bright future,” Sivakumaran said.