Monday, April 19, 2021

Michigan State enrollment continues to drop in spring semester

April 7, 2021
<p>Campus on Sept. 18, 2020. MSU has put up large posters around campus to encourage students and the community to practice social distancing and to wear masks.</p>

Campus on Sept. 18, 2020. MSU has put up large posters around campus to encourage students and the community to practice social distancing and to wear masks.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Michigan State University’s campus stretches over 5,000 acres in the town of East Lansing, welcoming thousands of students from across the globe every year. 

It is the largest university in the state, and until the late 2010s, was consistently within the 10 largest universities in the country by enrollment.

But like many universities across the country, Michigan State has seen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through its enrollment numbers.

Since fall 2019, MSU has seen a 7.25% undergraduate enrollment decrease. 

The university has had a 1.75% decrease in total enrollment, which includes graduate students, since before the pandemic.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, as of Feb. 11, the spring semester has seen the same levels of enrollment drop as fall 2020 for universities across the country. This study collected 6.7 million enrollment reports from 43% of colleges participating in Clearinghouse.

From the fall 2019 semester to fall 2020, MSU saw a 1.75% decline in undergraduate enrollment. Between this academic year’s fall and spring semesters there was an additional 5.61% drop.

According to NSCRC, Michigan’s enrollment declines have been on the lighter side. 

The overall state headcount has declined in a number of Michigan’s biggest public institutions. Here’s how Michigan State has compared since fall 2019:

Central Michigan and Wayne State University reported similar enrollment for fall 2019, with just over 13,100 undergraduate students. However, between the fall 2019 and fall 2020, CMU had an 11.49% drop in enrollment while WSU went up 300 students.

Grand Valley State University saw a bump up in enrollment from spring 2020 to fall 2020, but then saw an 8.54% decrease this spring. Similarly, Saginaw Valley also saw a bright spot from spring 2020 to fall 2020, that went back down this spring.

By the spring 2021 semester, WSU had a 12.02% decrease from the fall 2020 semester.

In comparison to some similarly sized universities across the country, Michigan State has taken a bigger hit to its enrollment. The University of Houston, University of Arizona and University of Florida all saw an increase in undergraduate enrollment from their 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 academic years.

This could be attributed to the COVID-19 restrictions in the state and at their university as some students might have deferred or been reluctant to start school while not being able to attend in-person.

Prior to MSU announcing a fully online 2020 semester, they were allowing first-year students to defer to the spring or fall 2021 semesters.

The pandemic has had an obvious impact on enrollment in higher education, but it was decreasing even before. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, annual undergraduate enrollment across all institutions of higher education fell by 1.25 million students from 2014 to 2019.

Research from the NSCRC shows that eight years before the pandemic, college enrollment nationwide fell about 11%. Smaller private colleges have had to entirely close their doors through the loss of money from enrollment drops.

Some of this prior decline has been attributed to the lack of financial aid available for students and institutional education priority.

The 2017 to 2018 academic year was the first time that white students no longer constituted a majority of undergraduates in U.S. public colleges, according to the NCES.

From fall 2019 to 2020, MSU has seen a 2.2% drop in international students enrolled.

Total enrollment from students of color from 2019 to 2020 increased at Michigan State from 24.2% to 25.3%, compared to the data from the NSCRC, which gathered a decrease in all racial and ethnic groups. 

Since the pandemic, Michigan State has seen a drop in its finances directly stemming from enrollment, attributing to a $54 million decline compared to last year’s revenue.

The current tuition revenue reflects both a decline in total enrollment and the change in student composition, specifically the drop in out-of-state and international students.

The fall 2020 entering freshman class was made up of 16.1% out-of-state and 4.5% international students. Fall 2019 saw 17.3% out-of-state students and 7.7% international students in the entering class.

MSU had a 342 student drop from 2019 to 2020’s entering class.

The Together We Will website said that, additionally, a smaller entering class will have at least a four-year impact on the university budget as that class moves through each year toward graduation.


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