UCO Enrollment Loses A Spring In Its Step
A UCO classroom sits empty during the summer intercession. (Cara Johnson/ The Vista).
For the second year in a row, the University of Central Oklahoma has experienced an overall decrease in both graduate and undergraduate retention and enrollment rates for the spring semester, according to data released by UCO’s Office of Institutional Research.
The enrollment numbers provided in the Office of Institutional Research’s Spring 2017 Demographics Book shows that overall enrollment numbers for the past five years are down by 7.3 percent as compared to last spring’s five year decrease of 2.5 percent.
While last year’s first-time enrollment numbers for freshmen were some of the highest in UCO’s history at a headcount of 2,536, this spring saw that number decreasing to 2,383 as a result of increasing competition over the state’s limited number of high school graduates.
Data from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s annual report on national high school graduation estimated that 40,000 Oklahoma high school students graduated in 2017.
With only an average of 56 percent of all Oklahoma high school graduates attending college and with 25 institutions of higher education in the state, UCO continues to face stiff competition with freshmen recruitment efforts, according to Myron Pope, UCO’s vice president of Student Affairs.
“With that reality, they [Oklahoma institutions of higher education] can expect to receive less than 1000 students each,” said Pope. “The market is just more competitive, and students are really conscious of scholarship offers, cost of attendance and other variables in their decision making.”
But rather than freshmen recruitment, it is the trend of decreasing retention rates illustrated in the Demographics Book that is of most concern to UCO officials.
“Even after we receive students, they may decide to not return to UCO. Students change their minds for a variety of reasons. Many transfer out, some sit out to work, some join the military,” said Pope. “We have attempted to collect data on this phenomenon, but it has been a challenge because students are not always responsive or transparent about their reasons for leaving.”
The spring 2017 semester revealed that enrollment numbers for juniors over the past five years have decreased by 12.8 percent and enrollment numbers for graduate students have decreased by 7.4 percent.
The colleges that have been most impacted by these enrollment rates include the College of Business with an overall five year enrollment decrease of 21.5 percent and the College of Liberal Arts with an overall five year enrollment decrease of 12.3.
“Our challenge in terms of enrollment is retention, not recruitment. We will be discussing strategies to deal with this in the upcoming academic year as a campus,” Pope said.
International enrollment rates are another area that have seen a decrease in headcount, with a total of only 1,101 international students enrolling in Spring 2017 compared to the 1,331 that enrolled in Spring 2016.
While international enrollment has been down due several countries making their policies for sending students to study abroad more selective, the United States’s international image has also contributed to this trend, according to Pope.
“Like many colleges and universities around the country, we are experiencing decreases in international applications at this point because of perceptions of the United States,” said Pope. “This tenor has died down recently, but we are not excluded to these perceptions. We continue to talk about the things that we have to offer here at Central, but it is still a challenge. It is my hope that this will correct itself in the next year.”
As the Office of Institutional Research has yet to release a Summer 2017 Demographics Book or official statistics on summer enrollment numbers, it remains to be seen how these trends will continue into the year.
While UCO’s Division of Students Affairs has confirmed that the fall semester will see a six percent increase in tuition rates, they have said it is too early yet to comment on potential trends for the summer or fall semester.
“There are too many moving targets and variables for where we will be for summer’s final numbers as well as what may impact fall’s enrollment as well,” said Adam Johnson, associate vice president for Enrollment Management