Freshmen on the decline

Sean Sauro, Contributing Writer

Pitt-Johnstown campus community members may notice fewer new students this academic year, as the freshmen enrollment rate has decreased.

However, despite the decline in first-year students, administrators say they remain optimistic because new, more aggressive recruiting strategies are being utilized this year.

While more aggressive strategies, including use of Web-based media, are now being used, Executive Enrollment Services Director Therese Grimes said the decline in enrollment may be stemming from issues beyond the university’s control.

“The demographic each year is declining. There are less high school graduates each year,” she said, adding that Pitt-Johnstown’s freshmen enrollment has dropped approximately 8 percent.

Validating Grime’s claim, the Pennsylvania Education Department’s website shows a 4 percent decrease in high school graduates heading to postsecondary schooling from 2008 to 2012.

Registrar Christian Stumpf also cited a decline in high school graduation for a lull in enrollment, but he said other factors may be keeping prospective students from enrolling.

“I think there are two main factors,” Stumpf said. “A lot of it has to do with recruiting, and it’s a difficult economy to send anyone to college.”

Though university administrators are unable to change the economy, Stumpf said the push toward more aggressive recruiting should be an improvement.

Grimes said, since she started last year, she has been working to improve the university’s print and online admissions materials.

“We’d like to have a more sophisticated look,” she said. “We’d like to try to get our image out there as a leader in education, not only in this area, but nationwide.

“Recruiting the traditional college freshman is not the real challenge, but it’s the quality in who we’re getting,” she continued. “I would like to have students who are going to stay here and really grasp the Pitt-Johnstown experience.”

Agreeing with Grimes, Stumpf said he too puts a value on student quality and said he and other Pitt-Johnstown administrators see students as more than just a seven-digit identification number.

“We try to keep people continuing on the path to degrees,” he said, explaining that student retention is one of the university’s priorities.

Similarly, the university website lists exceptional retention and graduation rates as a selling point for prospective students.

According to the University of Pittsburgh Common Data Sets, from 2005 to 2012, six-year graduation rates have fluctuated with the highest percentage at 63 percent in 2009 and the lowest at 55 percent in 2012 – slightly higher than the 53 percent national average.