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Portland State University’s decline in student enrollment has cost millions; expected to continue

Portland State University sign, file photo.
Hanin Najjar
/
Portland State University sign, file photo.

Two of the state’s largest universities have enrollment trends that appear to be going in opposite directions.

While Oregon State University has continued to grow its student population during the pandemic, initial figures for this school year show that Portland State continues to shrink.

At a meeting of PSU’s board of trustees Thursday, university leaders said early indications show the school has still not bounced back from the pandemic’s hit to its enrollment.

“The university is not going to meet its overall enrollment goal for the year,” PSU Finance and Administration Committee Chair Sheryl Manning told the board.

Although enrollment numbers are still not finalized, Manning told the board that student credit hours this fall are down 8 to 9% compared to the same period last year.

With the exception of Oregon State University, every public university in the state has lost enrollment during the pandemic, according to data from the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

Oregon State saw a roughly 4% increase in student enrollment from 2019 to 2021, according to the HECC. The university says it anticipates an uptick of roughly 2% more students this fall compared to last year.

Another one of Oregon’s largest public universities, the University of Oregon, has fared relatively well over the course of the pandemic, only losing about 1.4% of student enrollment from 2019 to 2021, according to HECC data.

UO announced last month the largest number of incoming students in university history, with a freshman class of about 5,300 this fall term.

On the other hand, Portland State’s news of a drop in enrollment this fall follows a decline of nearly 11% in fall term enrollment from 2019 to 2021, according to the HECC.

According to board documents, the university has lost roughly $18 million in gross tuition and fee revenue since the 2019-20 fiscal year.

“This trend in enrollment is certainly a call to action and requires a plan from management to address the future,” Manning said.

Solid numbers aren’t yet available this fall term, which started about a month ago, but according to data Manning presented, PSU is seeing a decrease in new students enrolling at the university.

The preliminary figures show PSU has 133 fewer first-year students this fall compared to last fall. The drop in new transfer students is dramatic, with about 400 fewer transfers.

“Approximately 50% of our students are transfers from community colleges, in particular, Portland Community College,” Board Chair Greg Hinckley said.

According to HECC data, PCC saw the steepest decrease in enrollment from 2019 to last fall across all of the community colleges — about 23%.

Enrollment has been steadily shrinking at most of Oregon’s community colleges, even prior to the pandemic.

Over the last decade, PCC’s enrollment has fallen nearly 40%, according to the HECC.

“As long as we are as dependent as we are on the transfer student population, it just doesn’t seem that we’re likely to be able to grow our way out of this,” PSU Board Chair Greg Hinckley said.

Manning with PSU said the university expects to have more clarity on its enrollment numbers and budget situation next month when its finance and administration committee meets.

Hinckley noted that the university has some leftover federal coronavirus relief funds that can soften the blow of the lost revenue.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Meerah Powell