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W.Va. college enrollment falls as economy rises

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As the national economy recovers, enrollment in West Virginia's colleges is declining -- but current enrollment levels in the state are still better than they were before the surge that came with the recession.Total enrollment in the state's public institutions, including four-year universities and two-year community and technical colleges, decreased by nearly 3 percent from Spring 2012 to Spring 2013, according to state Higher Education Policy Commission data.Those numbers mirror a nationwide report, released by National Student Clearinghouse, which shows the first significant decline in the college enrollment since the 1990s.Total enrollment across the country decreased by 2.3 percent from Spring 2012 to Spring 2013, according to the report. West Virginia's decline over that period was 2.7 percent.West Virginia, like the rest of the country, saw a boom in college enrollment when the recession hit, as more and more young people went to school and avoided a poor job market.From 2007 to 2008, college enrollment in the state increased by about 25 percent."We expect enrollment to surge during an economic downturn, which is what we saw both nationally and here in West Virginia in recent years," said Paul Hill, chancellor for the HEPC. "Our current enrollment numbers in the state well surpass those prior to the recession -- a good indicator that basic demand for higher education has not waned."After the influx in 2008, when about 66,800 students were attending a public four-year college in the state, enrollment continued to increase until 2012, when it dropped for the first time in years.About 66,430 students attended a four-year college in the fall 2012 semester, with about 63,840 attending in the spring 2013 semester.
During the early 2000s, enrollment hovered around 50,000."As the economy recovers, we must build on this momentum, which ties in to West Virginia's new master plan for higher education. By continuing our focus on access, we make available to our students a world of opportunity and success by gaining their degrees, and they, in turn, make a lasting impact on our state," Hill said. "There are challenges, but that is the goal, and we are well positioned to achieve it."About 1,000 fewer students attended a public four-year college in West Virginia in spring 2013 than they did in spring 2012, resulting in a 1.6 percent decline, according to HEPC data.The decrease in the state's public two-year colleges was greater, at nearly 6 percent, or a loss of about 1,400 students from spring 2012 to spring 2013.West Virginia University's enrollment did not decrease, though. WVU gained nearly 200 students from 2012-13, while Marshall University lost more than 250 students, for a 1.9 percent decrease in enrollment.The biggest decline nationwide is at four-year for-profit institutions, which decreased enrollment by 8.7 percent over the past year, according to National Student Clearinghouse.
Hill said the HEPC will continue to focus on keeping higher education "accessible and affordable," and is optimistic about enrollment, pointing to an increased number of adult students in West Virginia.More than 1,000 Regents Bachelor of Arts degrees were awarded in West Virginia for the first time last year. The program is designed especially for nontraditional students."More students are graduating, and more economically disadvantaged students are going to college than ever before in our state," Hill said.Reach Mackenzie Mays at or 304-348-4814.
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