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ETSU’s numbers down slightly

Rex Barber • Sep 10, 2012 at 11:20 PM

Enrollment at East Tennessee State University is largely flat this semester after years of record enrollments, but the number of graduate students increased, the school reported Monday.

Figures ETSU reported Monday indicate a total of 15,404 students are attending ETSU this semester. In fall 2011 there were 15,532 students attending ETSU, a decrease of 128 students.

ETSU’s enrollment had increased every year for the past few years until now.

In fall 2008 ETSU enrolled 13,841 students; in fall 2009 there were 14,677 students; and fall 2010 saw 15,234 students enrolled.

In 2000 there were around 11,000 students at ETSU.

“We’re flat,” ETSU President Brian Noland said, adding this was the case with other schools in the Tennessee Board of Regents system and at schools across the nation. “In fact, I think we’re pretty much in the catbird seat in terms of the fact that our enrollment is just for all intents and purposes flat.”

Noland said it was important to put Monday’s enrollment figure into context because that number of students (15,404) will not be the final figure for this coming academic year. ETSU now has cohorts of students in the same program that begin throughout the semester. Not all of those have begun. In addition, ETSU has a short term during the winter break between semesters. These numbers have yet to be figured into the enrollment figures.

“That’s an antiquated concept of looking at enrollment,” Noland said of using head counts at the beginning of each fall semester to figure attendance for the year. “Our total enrollment when its said and done will well surpass this (15,404) because we will have students taking courses over the fall. We’ll have cohorts running throughout the fall, Christmas and then into the spring.”

He predicted that next July there will be in excess of 16,000 students who had attended the school throughout the academic year.

Noland also pointed out that the state will release official enrollment numbers later this fall.

Noland said many schools across the country are reporting relatively flat enrollment numbers. There could be many reasons for this trend now, including affordability, complexities in the economy where things may be beginning to turn around and the complexities of the federal financial aid process.

Speaking in general, Noland said sometimes students choose to give up rather than navigate the complexities of financial aid and can therefore not afford to attend college. Noland did say these financial aid problems do not exist at ETSU and that this fall’s financial aid process was probably among the smoothest the school had ever had.

“There’s not any one single issue,” he said of why enrollment was flat.

It’s too early to pinpoint cause and effect but Noland said the school will look at area high school enrollment and graduation numbers in further planning. He did not think ETSU was too expensive.

“People are going to say, ‘Well, enrollment’s down, you know, 100 students because of price,’ ” he said. “If you look at our tuition and fees compared to peers we’re toward the bottom third.”

Tuition and fees this year for undergraduates who take 15 hours of class per semester at ETSU is $3,498.50. That would be $6,997 for a year of classes.

Populations of the student body that did increase were directly targeted by administrators through marketing and branding, Noland said.

Graduate student enrollment is up seven percent. International student enrollment is up more than 16 percent. Online course enrollment has increased more than 18 percent. The online enrollment increase is figured based on each class and indicates more students are taking online options.

Figures released Monday indicate 2,269 graduate students are enrolled at ETSU, an increase of 146 students from the previous fall.

Graduate Dean Cecilia McIntosh said that increase is not indicative of lessened admission standards, as only about 50 percent of applicants to graduate programs at ETSU are successful.

ETSU has 21 graduate certificates, 38 master’s degrees and 13 doctoral programs.

McIntosh said some graduate programs increased in capacity to meet demand by hiring more instructors, which largely accounts for the increase. An example of this increase would be in the master’s of social work.

Noland said the fact that ETSU has more than 15,000 students enrolled was great, but now they must graduate. Currently at ETSU, around 45 percent of students graduate. Noland’s goal is for graduation rates at ETSU to be at the national average of 54 percent.

“The students who began their college experience two weeks ago, our goal is to ensure that more of those students walk across the stage in four years, five years of six years and receive their degree, because the journey just began with the enrollment,” Noland said. “From this point enrollment turns to engagement and engagement turns to completion.”

Eli Woods, a nursing major, said ETSU may be hovering at 15,000-plus students now, but he still considers the university a small school.

“I just wanted to come here because of the smaller atmosphere,” he said. “It’s easily accessible. I just wasn’t very attracted to the huge campus scene. I feel like you can communicate easier with your teachers, and I had a lot of friends come up here too.”

Katie Sanders, a human services major and dance minor, decided to come to ETSU because it was the closest school with a dance program and her friends would be there.

“I think that it’s a good-sized school,” she said. “I think that it’s not too big, like, people are familiar. You still know people on campus within your major and your classes. But it’s big enough to where you don’t feel like there’s nothing to do or there’s nothing new to learn.”

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