Fewer students: A student works on his notebook computer at Indiana State on Tuesday. The university revealed a 6.9 percent decline in enrollment for the fall semester on Tuesday. Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza
Fewer students: A student works on his notebook computer at Indiana State on Tuesday. The university revealed a 6.9 percent decline in enrollment for the fall semester on Tuesday. Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza
Indiana State University’s enrollment is down 6.9 percent this fall, a decline that was anticipated, officials say.

Fall headcount enrollment is 12,146, compared to 13,045 last fall. In fall 2017, enrollment was 13,771.

Officials attribute the decline to a “new admissions philosophy” and also a nationwide trend in which the number of high school graduates is dropping.

That new approach to admissions reflects an emphasis on admitting students with better likelihood of graduating.

“Indiana State University’s new admissions philosophy focusing on student success produced the result university officials expected — a decline in total enrollment. But the institution showed increases in retention, diversity, and academic quality,” according to an ISU news release.

The change of approach emphasizes not how many students show up as freshmen, but how many walk across the stage at graduation with a degree. That metric is also a priority for the state of Indiana, which has emphasized student success and graduation through performance funding, according to ISU.

Jason Trainer, vice provost for enrollment management, who joined the university in March, said Indiana State is committed to graduating a higher percentage of Sycamores. It is no longer just about enrolling a large freshman class.

“The stakes for our students and their families are life-changing,” Trainer said. “We serve a student population that includes a high percentage of first-generation, Pell-eligible and minority students.”

He noted that 95 percent of all Indiana State graduates are employed or pursuing graduate education within six months of graduation; those graduates are earning an average salary of more than $47,000.

About half of ISU’s first-time, full-time freshmen this year are Pell-eligible, Trainer said.

The primary factor in admitting students remains a grade-point average of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale; starting in 2021-22, SAT/ACT testing will be optional, although it will be required for certain merit scholarships.

Students who fall below a 2.5 go through an interview process so ISU can assess other factors that would help the student be successful, Trainer said. Those students are in programs that provide extra support services.

Another factor affecting enrollment, particularly freshmen enrollment, is a trend in which the number of high school graduates is dropping across the nation. That will make it increasingly difficult to grow enrollments with past practices, Trainer said.

The university took a significant hit in freshmen enrollment, which had been 2,402 last year, and declined by 510 to 1,892 this year; that represents a drop of 21 percent.

In response, ISU’s strategy is a combination of improving retention rates of current students, while developing initiatives to increase traditional, transfer, graduate, online and international students.

The university also is looking at the scholarship programs it funds. Currently, 85 percent of those awards are based on merit, and just 15 percent based on financial need. ISU is evaluating those scholarships it funds and may adjust that mix to provide more support to those with financial need, Trainer said.

Anticipating a fall enrollment drop, which also means less tuition revenue, ISU made budget cuts earlier this year and trustees approved a smaller general fund budget for 2019-20. It approved a $188.9 million general fund for this year, down from $195.3 million in 2018-19.

The cuts included eliminating 26 vacant staff positions, Diann McKee, senior vice president for finance and administration, stated in June. Those vacant positions were “all across the board and not in any one particular area.”

The university also made cuts in various supply and expense lines and it reduced budgeted reserves.

ISU will continue to monitor the budget, based on Tuesday’s enrollment numbers, said Mark Alesia, ISU director of communication.

Indiana State’s 2019-20 operating budget included a projected 1.5 percent across-the-board increase for employees with satisfactory performance, but as in past years, a final decision is not made until fall enrollment is known.
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