Enrollment Decline at Arkansas State is a Complex Issue

JONESBORO — Enrollment at Arkansas State University is on the decline, but it isn’t all doom and gloom in Jonesboro.

Both domestic and international enrollment in graduate and undergraduate studies are down at Arkansas State, with overall enrollment down around 3%. However, as in-person enrollment falls, online enrollment is on the rise.

This story originally appeared in the March 11, 2020 edition of “The Herald” at Arkansas State.

According to Vice-Chancellor of Enrollment Management Bryan Terry, though “face-to-face” student enrollment is down 7%, online student enrollment has risen by 3% compared to previous semesters. A-State is home to the largest online college in the state of Arkansas — while also serving as the most affordable — and one of the largest in the entire region.

“If they’re online, they used to be face-to-face. The fact that our online programs are growing is a direct result of the decline of in-person students,” Terry said. “The convenience of an online opportunity is a good idea for some students.”

KODAK Digital Still Camera

The Arkansas State clocktower. Photo by Chase Gage

The online program also provides an avenue for non-traditional or returning students that may not feel comfortable in a traditional classroom setting. The focus, though, is on growing the rate of enrollment for high school graduates.

A decline in enrollment isn’t an issue unique to Arkansas State, though. In 2017, 69% of high school graduates in the United States enrolled in college. However, in the state of Arkansas, that percentage dropped to 47%. Not only are fewer students enrolling at A-State, but fewer students are enrolling in college at all.

From there, that 47% is split between several four-year colleges across the state. In short, there isn’t a strong stream of students entering the collegiate ranks.

“That’s a scary thought for the state,” Terry said.

According to Terry, one of the biggest underlying threats to enrollment at A-State and across the nation is the idea that college degrees are no longer worth the time and money. As more high school students choose to join the workforce or go to trade school upon graduation, colleges and universities are taking a hit.

That degree is still very much worth it, though, Terry argues.

When applying for jobs, those “pieces of paper” still matter according to Terry. Though it may be enticing to make more money sooner, a college degree is still the only proven way to get from the “outhouse to the penthouse.”

In the workforce, automation is replacing more and more jobs, and those without some form of higher education may be out of work sooner than later. Though truck drivers and factory workers make more money than the typical college student, those jobs may not be as stable in the long run as those earned via higher education.

“(Nationally), postsecondary enrollments decreased by 1.3% in fall 2019, a drop of more than 231,000 students from last year according to the the Fall 2019 Current Term Enrollment Estimates report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.” – Forbes

Terry also argues a college education is vital for meeting and connecting with potential future employers and provides several avenues for success outside of the classroom.

“In 10 years, you’re 28 with four kids and you’re a truck driver. But there aren’t jobs for truck drivers anymore. What do you do now?” Terry asked. “Most likely, you’ll end up as an online student trying to get a degree.”

A record graduation rate also played into the decline in enrollment, but Terry was hesitant to feel too optimistic about the overall situation. Students cannot graduate if they don’t first enroll, after all. If that number keeps dropping, graduation numbers will as well in time.

Though it is a very complex issue with a plethora of factors playing in, the fact is enrollment is declining at Arkansas State. It is an issue to raise concerns over. Thankfully, Terry offered one simple action that could go a long way in fixing the problem.

“Students at Arkansas State need to go back to their high schools and their friends and tell them why college is important. Sure, they can make great money at (insert business here) but at some point, they’ll realize that isn’t what they want to do. (At Arkansas State) they can find their passion and move forward.”

Categories: Arkansas State News, News, Northeast Arkansas News, The Herald

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