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Report: Enrollment growth needed to meet degree goal

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Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 6:41 pm | Updated: 6:42 pm, Tue Jan 15, 2013.

RICHMOND -- Virginia's public and private colleges must increase enrollment by about 42,000 in-state students over the next seven years to meet the state's ambitious goal for awarding additional degrees, according to a report by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

In-state undergraduate enrollment at public and nonprofit schools would need to rise to about 393,000 in 2020 from a total of about 350,624 students in fall 2010, the report said.

The 2011 Higher Education Opportunity Act set a goal of achieving an additional 100,000 associate and baccalaureate degrees from public institutions by 2025. The legislation, also known as the Top Jobs Act, called for "a comparable increase" from private institutions, which SCHEV estimates to be at least 15,000 additional degrees.

The SCHEV report did not address the cost of enrolling the additional students to meet the goal, but clearly "this is going to require additional resources," council member Stephen D. Haner said in a presentation on the report Tuesday.

The report's estimates on enrollment requirements are based on current rates of retention and graduation, said Tod Massa, director of policy research and data warehousing for SCHEV.

The council passed a resolution directing SCHEV staff to work with schools to come up with enrollment projections and degree estimates that would ensure they are on track to meet the target.

Schools routinely submit enrollment projections to SCHEV, but Haner said the process will have "added significance" now as SCHEV seeks to implement the Top Jobs goal.

In 2010, the state's public colleges and universities enrolled 318,933 in-state undergraduates, while nonprofit schools enrolled 31,691.

If the state meets the goal, it would mean about 55 percent of the state's working-age population will hold an associate degree or higher by 2025, compared with 43 percent as of the 2010 census.

But the report outlines some of the challenges schools will face, including the decrease in the number of Virginia high school graduates. The number peaked in 2008-09 at 87,822 and fell to 85,941 in 2011-12.

Also, although state appropriations for higher education increased during the last two years, total funding per student remains below where it was 10 years ago, making it more difficult for students to afford to go to college.

According to the report, four schools contributed most of the growth in in-state undergraduate enrollment at public four-year institutions from 2001 to 2011. Old Dominion University (6,283), Virginia Commonwealth (5,260), George Mason (3,627) and James Madison (2,682) accounted for 67 percent of the in-state enrollment growth.

Private colleges grew by 11,885 in-state undergraduates during that period, with Liberty University accounting for 7,937 of those students, the report said.

 

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