Aviation department growing: Indiana State University freshman Carson Dantzer, 18, of Fort Wayne, prepares to land in a flight simulator on Wednesday in the John T. Myers Technology Center. Dantzer, who has a double major in professional flight and aviation management, chose Indiana State over other schools that have similar aviation programs. Staff photo by Joseph C. Garza
Aviation department growing: Indiana State University freshman Carson Dantzer, 18, of Fort Wayne, prepares to land in a flight simulator on Wednesday in the John T. Myers Technology Center. Dantzer, who has a double major in professional flight and aviation management, chose Indiana State over other schools that have similar aviation programs. Staff photo by Joseph C. Garza
Freshmen enrollment is up at Indiana State University this fall, but overall headcount enrollment has declined this year and stands at 8,658, compared to last year's 9,459.

Overall enrollment is down nearly 8.5%; last year, it declined 12.6%

Fall 2017 enrollment was 13,045, which means this year's headcount is down nearly 34% since that time. Headcount includes both on campus students as well as those who take classes online.

But ISU says it is turning the corner with 1,535 new freshmen this year, an increase of 101 from last year — up 7%. In fall 2020, freshmen enrollment was 1,776.

In a news release, ISU states that enrollment numbers released Wednesday "offer many reasons for optimism as the university turns the corner from the pandemic’s impact throughout higher education."

According to ISU President Deborah Curtis, "The optimism here is that the strategies we've been employing to recruit and retain and complete students are working. We've turned that corner on growing a larger freshman class, and that's what really is important. There is no shortcut out of this environment we've been in," a reference to the pandemic.

In terms of total enrollment, the university has 2,544 new students overall, undergraduate and graduate.

The numbers do have budget implications. ISU's 2022-23 budget was based on a projected fall enrollment of 9,448; the budget also was based on a projected freshmen enrollment of 1,800, according to information presented to trustees in February.

In February, ISU trustees were told the university would need to make $8.4 million in cuts to its general fund budget over two years to make up for enrollment declines and a corresponding loss of student tuition revenue.

"We planned for this," and necessary adjustments will be made, Curtis said. "Are we going to be able to do more with less? No, we're not going to do more."

There will be implications for how people facilitate, for example, their open positions, she said. Those decisions are made by the different units on campus, not the president's office.

"Everyone is going to have to go back and take a look and see what they plan, which is what they'll be doing for the next several weeks," she said.

"There may be some things we don't do, and some things we may do more of," Curtis said.

"We don't want to focus on just a cut across the board. We want to still be able to invest in revenue growing opportunities like the Indiana State Advantage and programs that are growing and need those resources," she said. It also may involve decisions on "is it wise for us to continue to offer X, Y or Z if there doesn't seem to be a demand for it?"

Grounds for optimism

ISU, in its news release, discussed what it sees as grounds for optimism.

• The percentage of new freshmen in the Honors College compared to all new freshmen is the highest in ISU history — 20%. The Honors College had 307 new freshmen, a 21% increase over last year.
• The Indiana State Advantage, introduced a year ago, "was incredibly effective this year," Curtis said.
• The freshman class has percentage gains among African Americans and all minorities — students who were among the most likely to skip college during the pandemic. ISU’s freshman class is 36% minority and 22% African American.
The number of minorities is up 27% compared to last year. The number of African Americans is up 50% compared to last year.
• The number of both freshmen and students overall living on campus has increased.
• ISU’s one-year retention rate is up almost four percentage points from the previous year.

The new freshmen are 81% from Indiana. Marion County has the most students, with Vigo County second. Both of those counties showed increases from last year.

While total headcount enrollment is 8,658, that number is about 9,500 when dual credit and other non-degree-seeking students are included. Despite the pandemic’s impact on previous years’ class sizes, university leaders see a bright future, according to the release.

“We continue to experience the impact of past smaller classes due to the pandemic,” stated Jason Trainer, vice provost for enrollment management. “It will take at least three years to graduate those smaller classes.”

“There is still much work to be done,” Curtis said in the release. “We need to build on many positives in these data. The provost and Academic Affairs have charted a path forward based on priorities in our strategic plan."

Part of the strategy involves convincing those high school graduates who chose not to attend college during the pandemic that both they, and the state of Indiana, will benefit from a post-secondary education, she said.

"The state of Indiana has got to educate more of its citizenry if we're ever going to be competitive at the national level for attracting business and industry," Curtis said.

ISU may also have to recruit more students from beyond Indiana to boost numbers, especially with the state's college-going rate declining, Curtis said.

"We saw a great increase in this fall freshman class coming from Illinois and the St. Louis area," she said. Indiana State is "an incredibly affordable option for those [Illinois] students beyond even their state schools."

James Gustafson, ISU faculty senate chair, noted that "the raw numbers are tough, no question. We all knew when the smaller freshmen classes came in during the pandemic, that those classes take four years to graduate. So even as we bucked a trend among smaller colleges and actually increased our first-time freshman enrollment, the overall number was always going to go down, and will continue to do so for a couple more years."

He also noted that the college going rate in Indiana is "way down," as students have opportunities right away out of high school to make good money.

Gustafson also stated that "Purdue and IU are locked in a ridiculous arms race right now to increase enrollments far beyond their capacity to provide a quality experience for those students. It is easy to get lost in a class of 6,000 or 8,000 students. ISU provides a better experience and frankly a better education exactly because of our size and our mission. I hope people at the state level are thinking about the implications of that."
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