By DENISE DICK
Youngstown State University’s preliminary fall enrollment is down 6.5 percent from last fall, but university officials say this year’s freshman class is academically stronger than those of the past.
Gary Swegan, associate vice president for enrollment planning and management, attributed part of the decrease to the university’s change from an open enrollment to an open access university. That change, initiated last October under former YSU President Randy J. Dunn, took effect this fall.
This fall’s freshman class of 1,717 is nearly 300 students smaller than last year’s.
Enrollment Tuesday, the day before the start of fall semester classes, was 12,227 students, down from 13,395 students at the start of fall 2013. Numbers won’t be official until the 14th day of the semester, but it’s the fourth consecutive year the university has seen fall enrollment drop.
Swegan, however, sees an upside.
This year’s freshmen have an average grade point of 3.12, compared to 2.97 in 2013, and the average ACT score is 21.05, compared to 20.48 last year — making it YSU’s strongest-ever freshman class academically.
Swegan believes Dunn’s decision for YSU to no longer accept every student who applies was a good one. Those are students who didn’t often stay in school.
Dunn, however, projected the change would affect 25 to 50 students.
“There wasn’t a plan to replace 300” students, Swegan said. “There was a plan to replace 50.”
That plan included additional scholarships which aided 52 more students.
Swegan, who started at YSU in the new position last November, expected the lower enrollment to continue this fall although the extent of the decrease wasn’t projected.
“As of July 7, we were down 3 percent,” he said.
The number declined as the summer continued, because this is when in previous years many students would take advantage of open enrollment.
The size of the most recent graduating classes corresponding to record enrollment from 2009 to 2011 also contributed to the overall enrollment decline.
Fall 2010 saw the highest enrollment in recent years with 15,194 students, but Swegan previously has said that’s not the norm. From 2009 to 2011, YSU enrollment spiked, but those years were during the economic downturn. People who couldn’t find work were going to school.
YSU’s 16-year average enrollment — minus 2009 to 2011 — was 12,890.
“I feel very optimistic about 2015,” Swegan said. “I feel like we have the building blocks in place.”
Besides higher freshman retention, stronger early freshman applications and the additional scholarship opportunities already implemented, the university has hired Royall & Company of Richmond, Va., a direct marketing student recruitment company, to help increase enrollment.
YSU hired the company for a one-year contract for $300,000.
“That’s not paid for with university funds,” Swegan said.
President Jim Tressel generated the money through fundraising, he said.
Ron Cole, YSU spokesman, said YSU is positioning itself for the new landscape which includes a new state funding formula based on student outcomes as well as the presence of Eastern Gateway Community College in the Mahoning Valley.
Tressel, who began as YSU president in late June, worked with enrollment in his previous role as executive vice president for student success at the University of Akron, Swegan said.
“I’ve felt good about 2015 before and I feel even better about 2015 since Jim Tressel got here,” he said.