Texas colleges and universities are resisting a national college admissions slump, enrolling 1.7 percent more students year over year as campuses nationwide saw a 1.5 percent decline in student enrollment, according to recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse.
The numbers reflect demographic shifts nationally and in the Southwest also reported by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
Declining birth rates mean the number of high school graduates will be stagnant through the early 2020s, causing universities nationwide to feel an enrollment pinch, according to the commission. With fewer high school graduates, there is a smaller pool for universities to recruit. By 2020, about 3,000 fewer students are expected to graduate from high school nationally than in 2013.
“Institutions that cannot attract graduate students to compensate for declining numbers of undergraduates will continue to struggle in the coming years,” Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a statement. “The spring 2017 numbers reinforce the trends that we saw in the fall term, and will likely continue: enrollments at community colleges and smaller non-profits declining, while four-year public colleges and larger privates hold steady.”
But in Texas, the number of public high school graduates is projected to grow by 22.6 percent between the 2011-12 academic year and 2024-25, the education commission found.
The clearinghouse data show Texas institutions enrolled 1.39 million students last spring, up from 1.37 million in spring 2016. New Hampshire was the only other state with enrollment growth above 20,000 students.
Meanwhile, Michigan, New York and California campuses lost between 18,000 and 20,000 students each, seeing the largest drops in the country.
The gains in Texas come as universities and colleges around Houston have set lofty enrollment goals, as enrolling more students leads to more tuition revenue and state funding from the formula that distributes money to public institutions.
“The Houston area is one of the most dynamic areas of the country in terms of growth overall,” said Peter Bryant, an enrollment expert at Iowa firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz, in an interview last fall on Lone Star College’s enrollment growth. Bryant wasn’t available for an interview on Monday but said in an email that broader trends had not changed since the fall.
Universities and colleges around Houston have hustled over the last few years to make sure they’re keeping up with the region’s growing population.
Nearly 8,600 students enrolled at Texas Southern University in the spring semester – a 5.75 percent increase from last spring’s enrollment. The growth was driven partly by a 47 percent increase in new students transferring from community colleges.
Austin Lane, TSU’s president, has said that better relationships with local community colleges would play a pivotal role in growing enrollment, which had declined since 2012. His goal is to expand enrollment to 15,000 students by 2020.
University of Houston-Downtown is three years into an ambitious strategic plan that also focuses on enrollment growth – up from 14,251 last year to 18,000 by 2020.
Texas’ growth in college-age candidates will stem largely from an increase in black and Hispanic high school graduates, according to the regional commission’s report.