A university system already squeezed financially shared more unsettling numbers Wednesday.
Fall enrollment is down officially across the State System of Higher Education for the third consecutive year, with 12 of the 14 state-owned universities registering losses, including all five Western Pennsylvania schools.
Head count enrollment systemwide now stands at 112,315 students. That is 2.1 percent, or 2,469 students, fewer than last year, and 6 percent, or 7,198 students, below 2010's peak enrollment of 119,513, according to numbers shared with the system's board of governors Wednesday in Harrisburg.
With this fall's losses, six system schools now have seen double-digit declines over three years, chief among them Cheyney University, which has lost nearly 24 percent of its student population since 2010; Edinboro University, down almost 18 percent since 2010; and Clarion University, where enrollment has fallen just under 17 percent during those years.
Others registering double-digit losses since 2010 are Mansfield University, down about 13 percent; California University of Pennsylvania, down roughly 12 percent; and Kutztown University, down by approximately 11 percent.
System officials were expecting losses this year for reasons including a drop in high school graduate totals across the commonwealth that is not expected to rebound until 2020.
This year's systemwide enrollment loss was smaller than last year's 2.9 percent decline but somewhat larger than system planners projected.
Fewer students, a recent 18 percent cut in the system's state appropriation and rising campus costs in a sluggish economy have created what system leaders in recent months have described as "a perfect storm" financially, including a $50 million budget shortfall this year alone.
Since August, Clarion, Edinboro and Mansfield universities have announced planned program cuts and employee reductions, including layoffs of nearly 100 professors.
Addressing board members Wednesday as they met in committee session prior to today's full board meeting, system administrators discussed the importance of shifting resources from low-enrolled areas to academic programs meeting Pennsylvania's future workforce needs. The State System's new chancellor, Frank Brogan, also suggested strategies for securing additional state funds in a tough economy and for adjusting the system's tuition pricing.
He said he is open to the concept of allowing certain academic programs to carry higher tuition prices than others, but added, "I believe in a concept more like walk before you run."
He suggested perhaps a pilot involving one or more programs so as to avoid unintended consequences.
He also discussed the possibility of requesting a special line item from the governor and legislature to benefit new or existing programs that are consistent with the commonwealth's goals. It might involve "seed money for aligning academic program offerings with high priority occupations across the Commonwealth," according to material shown to board members.
This fall, West Chester University managed to buck the downward enrollment trend. It saw an increase of 2.8 percent to 15,845 students.
In doing so, it surpassed Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which had been the State System's largest school. At IUP, enrollment declined this fall by 4.2 percent to 14,997 students.
Bloomsburg University was the only other State System school to muster an increase. Its enrollment this fall grew by 1.8 percent to 10,127 students.
Clarion University registered the largest percentage loss this fall, down 6.8 percent to 6,080 students.
Enrollment losses on other Western Pennsylvania campuses included Edinboro, down 4.9 percent to 7,098 students; California, down 4.2 percent to 8,243 students; and Slippery Rock University, down 2.5 percent to 8,347 students.
System administrators provided the board with data on enrollment patterns showing that the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math now account for the largest share of students with declared majors -- 13.6 percent. Next comes business, 13.1 percent; health, 10 percent; and education, which was once the predominant major across the State System and now accounts for 9.3 percent of declared majors.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM