Combating Declining Enrollment in Ohio’s Colleges | Rea CPA

Combating Declining Enrollment in Ohio’s Colleges and Universities

college and universities image | Rea CPA

Turbulent Times for Higher Education

Enrollment in America’s colleges and universities fell again in spring 2022. Enrollment declines have persisted since spring 2018 and the declines have only steepened. In spring 2022, total postsecondary enrollment fell by 4.1 percent or 685,000 students, the majority of which were in undergraduate enrollment. Year over year, there were 4.6 percent (462,000) fewer female students in 2022 compared to 2021. Community colleges continued to suffer the most, with 351,000 fewer students or a drop of 7.8 percent.

The effects have been similar in Ohio. There was a 5.0 percent (26,000 students) decrease in Ohio’s postsecondary students in 2022 compared to 2021.

Although colleges and universities cannot change demographic trends, there is some hope on the horizon, particularly in Ohio.

Ohio’s Higher Education Affordability Bill

According to the Ohio Department of Education, Ohio is expected to lose 9 percent of its total 2019 high school graduates by 2030. In addition, in its most recent analysis of college affordability, the Institute for Research on Higher Education ranked Ohio 45th in the United States.

Passed in April 2022, Senate Bill 135 (SB 135) seeks to pave the way toward making higher education more affordable and accessible to more Ohio students and to offer solutions to combat a dwindling number of high school graduates in Ohio. Some of the key measures of the bill, which takes effect on July 20, 2022, are included below.

  • The measure makes permanent the Second Chance program, piloted in 2021, that awards one-time $2,000 state grants to Ohioans returning to a college, university, or technical center within five years of dropping out, as long as they left in good academic standing.
  • Credits from community colleges will be guaranteed to transfer to state universities, allowing for a more streamlined transition to obtaining bachelor’s degrees.
  • Requires that state universities provide a breakdown of tuition costs on a state website.
  • Forbids charging more for online courses than in-person classes.
    • Any “special fees” charged for an online course cannot simply be an estimated price tag. Higher education institutions must base those fees upon the actual demonstrated costs.
  • Specifies that universities cannot prioritize out-of-state applicants, who pay higher tuition, over equally qualified in-state applicants.

The Second Chance’s pilot program helped return nearly 300 students to school after a hiatus of three semesters or more. In Ohio, a $2,000 grant will cover most, or in some cases, all of a semester’s tuition at most of the state’s community colleges. Inherent in SB 135’s provisions is the desire to create better partnerships between Ohio’s two-year colleges and state universities. The goal is to establish joint course offerings and create the opportunity for students to be dually enrolled in two of Ohio’s schools.

Federal Assistance

Ohio’s colleges and universities have benefitted significantly from the federal stimulus funds received throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, Ohio colleges and universities received more than $2 billion in total, $1.2 billion of which was provided through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Nearly $305 million of ARPA funds were targeted for community colleges. These funds were allocated through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). HEERF funding aided students through direct financial support and supported institutions’ ability to continue to employ faculty and staff and mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Any remaining funds from these packages must be spent by June 30, 2023.

We Can Help

As the sun sets on the federal stimulus funds’ performance period, Ohio’s colleges and universities will have to seek ways to maintain operational efficiency and sustain or grow enrollment in a challenging environment. The State of Ohio has worked to ease the burden through the passage of SB 135. Through grants to students and better collaboration between the state’s two-year and public universities, Ohio seeks to adapt to changing times and shifting demographic factors.

Rea & Associates, Inc. has been around for over 80 years. We understand university operations, including enrollment management and costing analysis and studies. Please contact one of our higher education team members to let us know how we can help you and your institution in these challenging times.

By: Danny Sklenicka, CPA (Gahanna Office)