West Virginia State University is projecting that the coronavirus pandemic will cause a 20-25% drop in total student enrollment in the upcoming academic year, shrinking an already diminished number of students on campus.
And fewer students would mean fewer tuition dollars for a school already behind on payments to certain vendors.
Frank Vaughan, the faculty representative on the school’s Board of Governors, said there already was a “huge drop” in enrollment before the pandemic, and a significant new decrease would be taken out of that already shrunken amount.
Kristi Williams, West Virginia State’s interim vice president of business and finance, projected losing roughly $4.5 million, if enrollment drops by one-fifth, and losing $5.6 million, if enrollment drops by one-fourth.
“We’re talking of strategies of how to reduce this impact through recruitment, through retention, through reduction of expenses, and also, ultimately, we may have to look at staffing issues,” Williams said.
She said much of the federal coronavirus relief funds given to the university have already been used to provide financial relief and food, housing and graduation fee refunds to students — the campus mostly shut down this spring because of the pandemic — and to feed stranded international students and fund cleaning and other virus-related expenses.
WVSU got about $3.1 million from relief money specifically set aside for historically black colleges and universities, and how that will be used is yet to be finalized, she said. She noted that’s not enough to fill even a $4.5 million loss.
Yvette Underdue Murph, the school’s vice president of enrollment management and student affairs, provided Board of Governors members Thursday with a recent snapshot of registrations for the next academic year.
About 68% of undergraduate West Virginia State students who were there in the recently ended academic year and weren’t set to graduate have already enrolled for the next academic year, according to Underdue Murph. The figure was 66% for graduate students, she said.
That number needs to rise, and be supplemented with new freshmen, to maintain the school’s enrollment.
Enrollment of first-time freshmen at West Virginia State already dropped to 270 last fall, down 36% from just four years prior.
Total enrollment increased about 16% over the same period, but more than half of the school’s 4,120 students in the recently ended academic year were high school students taking college courses. The few classes that high school students usually take don’t financially support the school as much as students who take larger course loads.
Underdue Murph said the goal was 450 freshmen last fall, and the school only brought in the 270.
For the upcoming fall, she said, the goal is now 250. Billboards and print ads are part of a plan to get students in.
As of now, she said there are five freshmen registered, but about 120 more are preparing to do so.
She said the student orientation that normally precedes registration had been delayed by the pandemic and had been transformed into a virtual process. Those 120 students have finished that orientation, she said.
She said some parents have had their incomes diminished by the virus, thus hurting their students’ college chances, and other students are awaiting more details on how the university will actually teach them in the fall. During the spring shutdown, the school switched to chiefly online classes.
“There are some students who really prefer the face-to-face and also the on-campus experience, so that has been one of the delays in them registering for classes,” she said.
Previously, the school decided to drop the ACT and SAT requirement for high school students to be admitted.