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Semester conversion tough on enrollment, schools tout diversity


August 25. 2013 3:14AM
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LIMA — Officials at schools recently converting to semesters believe it will benefit students, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t hurt this year’s fall enrollment.



OSU-Lima, Rhodes State College and Wright State University-Lake Campus in Celina all converted to semesters this year, a move mandated by the state. Each also saw drops in enrollment, as did other schools in the region.



“We started a whole month sooner than what we have done in the past, so we lost a full month of recruitment,” said Bryan Albright, associate director of enrollment services at OSU-Lima.



The school dropped from 1,306 students last fall to 1,131 this year, a 13 percent decline. The school expected at least 10 percent, Albright said.



Rhodes state saw just more than a 4 percent drop, going from 4,050 students to 3,883. President Debra McCurdy said she believes the semester conversion has a lot to do with it.



“It is just the transition from 10-week quarters to thinking about 16 weeks,” she said, adding that tuition is now paid twice a year rather than three times. “Even though it is the same amount, if you have to pay two big payments as opposed to three, all of that is kind of an adjustment.”



Wright State-Celina’s enrollment experienced a 13 percent drop from last fall. Dean Bonnie Mathies said the school saw a 10 percent increase in the number of graduates last year. Rhodes also saw an increase.



“Many students were encouraged to complete their programs and graduate prior to the change,” Mathies said, adding that the conversion also negatively impacted the school’s dual-enrollment students.



Schools expect their enrollments to increase as soon as the spring semester.



“Students sometimes take fewer courses in the beginning and then it gains momentum as they navigate their way through what 16-week semesters mean, which is I have a choice,” McCurdy said. “I think we will begin to inch that enrollment back up as we head towards that 5,000 target. We were well on the way, but as we moved toward conversion we dropped.”



Despite the conversion, Mathies said the Celina campus saw a 15 percent increase in first-time students coming directly from high school. New student housing is filled to capacity.



Wright State and OSU-Lima are both drawing students into new engineering programs. Wright State started its mechanical engineering program last year with 32 students and now has 67. OSU-Lima’s first-year engineering program began this fall with a full cohort of 24 students, moving officials to add another cohort that has also filled.



OSU-Lima lost students to the Columbus campus, which Albright said is positive. Twenty-two percent of the local campus spring enrollment transferred for their second year. Students need to have 30 hours and a 2.0 GPA to transfer.



“They are doing well and we are keeping them Buckeyes, which is our mission,” Albright said.



Rhodes’ postsecondary and other high school enrollment is up 70-plus percent, McCurdy said. She attributes it to the push at the state level to move students through college quicker. The University of Findlay also reported large postsecondary numbers (1,200).



Community college enrollment is ever changing because of the various options such schools offer, said Brad Meyer, public relations coordinator at Owens Community College. The Findlay-area campus had 2,391 students early in September, on the day it takes its “snapshot” look at enrollment. Just last week, the number was up to 2,430.



“We anticipate it will continue to fluctuate,” he said.



The area’s private schools also saw declines in enrollment, ranging from 42 fewer at Bluffton University to 106 at the University of Northwestern Ohio. The University of Findlay is down 90 students and Ohio Northern University is down 56.



UNOH could see a jump when the College of Applied Technologies, which operates on six-week sessions, brings in new students in November. President Jeffrey Jarvis said 81 new students came into the session last November, with 173 expected this year.



The addition of men’s soccer brought new students, including international students, to campus, Jarvis said. Women’s soccer and softball will begin next year.



“Coaches have already been hired and recruiting is under way, which will further increase our enrollments in the coming years,” he said, adding that the indoor athletic complex coming next year will also likely attract students.



Despite the small decline, Ron Headings, Bluffton’s vice president for enrollment management and marketing, said the school is optimistic about the future. The school has larger freshmen and sophomore classes than upperclassmen. He cites a declining number of high school graduates in Ohio as having an impact on college enrollment.



Growing programs at the school include business, dietetics, exercise science and other medical-related programs. The trend with current college students living through the difficult economy, Headings said, is to be diligent about questioning what kinds of jobs are available.



“That results in our communications changing a little bit,” he said. “We are saying, 'Here are the academic degrees, but here are also the interesting types of jobs that can come out of those degrees that you may not have thought about.’”



While ONU is down 56 students, Lawrence Lesick, vice president of enrollment, said the school is excited and pleased with the quality and number of students.



Area schools say they are doing well in terms of diversity. ONU attracts students from as far away as China. More than 25 states and seven foreign countries are represented on campus.



“We are particularly excited at the interest we are seeing from international students, with an increase in that population in our English language and bridging programs,” he said. “They are helping to make ONU a great place to learn in and out of the classroom.”



UNOH has students from 38 states and 24 foreign countries. OSU-Lima attracted students from 38 counties last year. That is up to 42 this year. Albright said there is a waiting list at off-campus student apartments.



While Rhodes recruits students within a 10-county area, McCurdy said special focus is now on Putnam, Hardin, Auglaize and Mercer, with recruiters being placed there.



Bluffton’s religious diversity continues to grow, said Headings. The largest denomination, Catholic, makes up just 20 percent of the total incoming freshmen class. The next largest is Mennonite, with many other denominations making up the rest.



“This campus feels like there are lots of different diverse points of view,” he said. “And it creates an atmosphere a lot of our academic folks are very proud of in terms of lots of good discussions in their classes.





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