By JONATHAN GANCI
Capital News Service
LANSING– With Michigan’s population decreasing, the state’s 15 public universities are battling to keep enrollments steady.
Migration out of Michigan, mainly due to a higher-than-national unemployment rate, has outpaced migration into the state.
According to enrollment reports by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan, four public universities saw a decrease in enrollment last fall: Michigan State, Wayne State, Northern Michigan and Michigan Technological Universities.
Penny Bundy, director of admissions at Western Michigan University, said that universities across the state were expecting a decline in number of high school students but failed to foresee the economic crisis.
“What wasn’t anticipated was the economic downturn. These two things combined for the perfect storm for declining enrollments,” Bundy said.
In reaction to the threat of declining enrollments, Bundy said Western has increased its visibility through marketing campaigns and a recruitment office in Royal Oak, giving the school a presence in Southeast Michigan.
Bundy also said Western features certain programs to recruit in neighboring states as well as reaching into far-away states like California and Texas.
Those actions helped boost the school’s enrollment nearly 2 percent since last year.
“We go to California because there is a proliferation of students not admitted into the California schools,” Bundy said. “We have some unique programs that they are not able to get, like aviation.”
The out-of-state proportion of Western’s incoming freshman class rose from 9.6 to 10.5 percent from 2009 to 2010.
Much like Western, Ferris State University has seen enrollments rise after marketing campaigns and out-of-state recruitment, according to the dean of enrollment services, Kristen Salomonson.
While the number of freshmen has remained relatively unchanged over the past four years, Ferris has focused on attracting transfer students and nontraditional applicants such as adults looking to change career fields.
Mike Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council, said universities are starting to tap into different pools of potential students.
“You are going to see not only the traditional students coming out of high school, but many nontraditional adults re-entering college to reposition themselves in the workplace and the knowledge-based economy,” Boulus said.
Although under pressure to keep enrollments up, many admissions officers said they are unwilling to lower their standards to broaden the application pool.
Salomonson said once Ferris increased criteria for admission, it saw an increase in applicants.
“We have not lowered our admissions standards at all in order to increase enrollment,” Salomonson said. “There is no real pressure to do that and I think that’s the right choice for the institution.”
The admissions office at Western saw a similar pattern and has also refused to compromise its standards, Bundy said.
“We cannot work in the best interest of the students knowing they don’t have a certain level of preparedness,” Bundy said. “We are very careful in the review of applicants that they show this preparedness.”
Despite migration out of state and a declining number of high school students, many universities remain optimistic about enrollment.
“We’ve been able to post some strong numbers while maintaining and even growing in certain areas,” Salomonson said. “I don’t see that changing. But we do have to commit more time and resources and get very creative about the ways we are doing that.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By JONATHAN GANCI