Statewide enrollment decreases affect retention rates
After seeing its smallest freshman class since 2002, the university continues to handle a decrease in enrollment numbers and returning students this fall.
Across the board, the number of students enrolling and returning has declined by approximately 4 percent, and the number of incoming freshmen has fallen by nearly 10 percent this semester.
However, MTSU is not alone in its falling enrollment figures. A report by one of the state’s two supervisory boards for higher education, the Tennessee Board of Regents, concludes that all of its state universities have seen drops in enrollment with an average of nearly 3.5 percent.
According to Debra Sells, vice president for student affairs, the drop in enrollment could be due to a variety of reasons, primarily tuition hikes and a diminishing number of high school graduates.
“Nationally, the production of high school graduates is projected as slowing between 2008 and 2015. Growth is projected to resume at a slower pace in 2015,” Sells said. “In addition, many states, including the state of Tennessee, have responded to tough economic times by shifting more of the costs of a college education from the state to the individual student.”
The impact is that a decline in enrollment and retention makes it more difficult for a university to receive state money due to the new funding formula, Sells said.
The model for the funding formula, which can be found on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s website, details the process by which state schools are judged for allocation of state money.
While the number of enrolled students plays a pivotal role in the evaluation, the rate of retention is now taken into consideration, according to Monica Greppin-Watts, TBR communications director.
“The Complete College Tennessee Act passed by the state legislature in 2010 called for the creation of a new funding formula,” Greppin-Watts said. “State funding is now allocated to public higher education based on outcomes like increasing the numbers of degrees, diplomas and certificates awarded. Included in that formula is recognition of increased retention rates.”
Among the factors taken into account are the number of degrees earned, the graduation rate and the accumulation of hours by university students.
The university is well aware of these issues and their solutions, said university spokesman Andrew Oppmann in an interview with WMOT, Middle Tennessee Public Radio.
“First and foremost, what we’re keenly aware of is the need to understand every student that is not returning as a university student and why that is,” Oppmann said. “We’ve been reaching out to any students not returning, trying to understand their circumstances. Many times it’s a temporary or momentary lapse where they need to regroup their finances or perhaps their life situations. We make sure that we can get them all the information they need to continue their educations and assisting them with financial resources if they are eligible.”
A report by American College Testing suggests other helpful strategies for improving retention rates, including University 1010 courses, tutoring and emphasis on academic advising.
However, according to Oppmann, even with the drop in enrollment figures, the university still has the largest freshman class of any TBR school.