COVID-19

Enrollment decline spells trouble for Michigan colleges and universities

Freshman enrollment has dropped 8% at the state's public universities and 8-10% at community colleges.

As the state’s colleges and universities contend with rising COVID-19 numbers this year, they’re also dealing with another problem: Declining enrollment. That could be a sign of trouble to come for the schools and for people who would otherwise be students.

An analysis by Bridge Michigan shows that enrollment of first-time students is down at 12 of the state’s 13 public universities that have made their numbers public. The numbers are as bad for community colleges.

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Western Michigan University has 9.1% fewer freshmen attending classes this fall. Other schools aren’t faring much better. Only Lake Superior State University has seen an increase in freshman enrollment.

The University of Michigan and Central Michigan University haven’t released enrollment numbers.

College administrators worry that those freshmen won’t make it back to campus even after the pandemic ends.

“The fear is that if you delay a year, it ends up being permanent – that you have a cohort that is less college-educated,” said Lou Glazer, the president of Michigan Future, a non-profit aimed at increasing college enrollment.

People without college degrees typically earn less than their college-educated counterparts.

“For the state, if you have a cohort earning less, they spend less in the local economy,” said Glazer. “Even more importantly, you’ll end up with a cohort that doesn’t have the skills for the job market.”

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