By Cedric Nsilo-Swai
There are a lot fewer of them enrolling in college in Massachusetts than there used to be, and experts expect the decline to continue in the coming years. What this probably won’t affect student life at Worcester State University in the short term, faculty and administration are trying to deal with issue before it becomes a problem.
WSU President Barry Maloney attributes the decline in enrollment to migration and the factors that contribute to it such as climate and job availability. To counter these factors, WSU recruiters have to get creative in the ways they promote the school and the area to prospective students..
“We are not telling a good story only about Worcester State, but [about] Worcester the city and why you should come and learn in Worcester,” Maloney said.
Maloney also emphasized the importance of students feeling good about their majors and committing to them to avoid losing students to schools that offer majors that we do not offer here.
An article on The Department of Higher Education’s website attributes the decline in enrollment to the number of high school graduates plateauing over the last decade. Worcester State University is no exception. For the past two years WSU’s student population has been decreasing, whereas, before that, it had been increasing, according to data provided by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. WSU has maintained high standards in terms of grade point average and the fees have increased by roughly 56 percent every 10 years, according to MDHE data.
Vice President of Enrollment Management of WSU, Ryan Forsythe, explained the shift as a “regional phenomenon,” affecting the Northeast and Upper Mid-West regions with a decrease in students while other regions are experiencing an increase.
As Forsythe explains it, WSU will not be seeing much student body growth in the near future due to this shift. Instead, at the Enrollment Management Office they will be focusing on maintaining and compensating for numbers lost rather than growing orshrinking. He said that there would not be significant changes made to student life unless there was a drastic change to the student population, which is not predicted.
The school’s plan to deal with this shift is focused on pulling students from sources other than high school graduates, such as graduate students, transfer students, as well as students from minority backgrounds, Forsythe explained. Forsythe also explains that there will not be any changes to admissions guidelines due to the demographic shift.
Quinsigamond Community College, another college in Worcester, has been experiencing tremendous drops in student population over the past few years. Director of Institutional Communications Josh Martin explained the process and steps that they began 3-4 years ago to combat the shift.
“We increased our efforts to recruit non-traditional students [those over 25 years old or unemployed/underemployed], and started offering more training opportunities for businesses,” Martin said. “The student can earn the certificate in a year or less, enter the workforce, and then return to QCC to finish their degree.”
The Director of Career Services at QCC, Faith Wong, articulated the main cause of the drop in enrollment as the economy.
“When the economy is good, enrollment decreases; when it is bad, people return to school for retraining.” Wong says.
The potential danger of the shift in demographics has not only been anticipated, but has plenty of counter measures against it in the works and being implemented today. One solution WSU has prepared, along with pulling students from other areas, includes going SAT-optional for the Fall semester of 2018.
Joseph Dicarlo, Director of Admissions, explained the process of predictive modeling, which is an annual process used to assess what indicates student success. The Admissions office along with the Office of Enrollment Management work together to complete this assessment by compiling data, such as study habits (information gained via survey), high school GPA, family support, etc. There are 81 different indicators that are tested each year.
Dicarlo also explained that WSU will be “test-flexible,” meaning that new applicants will have to identify as test-optional applicants if they do not want to send their scores.
“If you submit [your scores] we will look, but if not, it will not have an adverse impact on their potential for candidacy,” Dicarlo said.
The demographic shift is affecting colleges within our region, but schools like WSU, QCC and many other colleges around the North-East have prepared for it and are unphased.