College Enrollment Landscape

Higher education is not an industry known for making big or speedy changes. While curriculum evolves to keep up with the times, education is a foundation. No one often advocates making quick changes to their foundation. Outside influences have prompted universities across the country to consider the future and the best way to prepare.

The Cause
First, there are fewer students. Traditional aged college students are simply fewer. The United States is experiencing the lowest birth rate since 1987. Why? Millennials are having children later in life and are having fewer of them. Eighteen years ago, the War on Terror began, and thousands of men and women were deployed. Still more impactful to the number of future students was the financial crisis that hit in the late aughts. That alarmed young Americans who chose not to start a family during the economic uncertainty. The fall in birth rates will result in a 15 percent drop in the college-going population between 2025 and 2029.

Second, there are far more options. There are roughly 4,300 colleges and universities in the United States. In addition, there are a thousand more institutions offering specific trade skills. Students have the choice of attending a community college; public, private, or for-profit universities; and even countless online programs where they need never leave home and can do so while working full time. More and more, students are choosing not to pursue higher education at all. In a booming economy, jobs are prevalent. The lure of a paycheck can often seem more appealing than the possibility of student loan debt.

The Effect
Southeast has felt the impact. In the last few years, the institution has experienced a decrease in enrollment. That’s been a harsh reality after 20 years of increased enrollment. State appropriations have declined, meaning tuition must account for more of the University’s total operating budget.

Fewer students mean budget decreases. In the last two years, Southeast has decreased its budget by nearly $10 million. Those cuts came from a variety of sources, including reorganizations of units, a voluntary retirement program, operating decreases from departments, and more.

The University approached the budget adversity with two main goals: to find solutions that didn’t impact the quality of education and student experience and to keep Southeast a smart investment. The University community began to work together to develop a strategic enrollment plan to address the challenges the institution will face.

“Southeast is an institution that provides access to an affordable, quality education for nearly 11,000 students each year,” said President Carlos Vargas. “That’s a mission of which we can be proud and one we are committed to protecting and enhancing together.”

– President Carlos Vargas


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