Overall Enrollment Up at Penn State, Down at Campuses

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State’s overall enrollment remains steady more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting only a modest decrease in student numbers for fall 2021. For a third consecutive year, the University saw growth in diversity, with a rise in total enrollment of underrepresented students. The total number of international students University-wide at Penn State continues to hold steady despite pandemic-related declines occurring nationwide.  

University-wide (excluding Pennsylvania College of Technology), fall 2021 total enrollment stands at 88,914, down by 1%, or 902 students, from fall 2020 and down 2.7% or 2,513 from pre-COVID fall 2019. At University Park, on-campus enrollment increased by 2.2% compared to 2020 and 0.4% since 2019. 

The university’s undergraduate enrollment for fall 2021 includes 18,704 new undergraduate (first-time and transfer) students, compared to 18,542 last year (+0.9%) and 19,043 in 2019 (-1.8%). 

Colleges and universities are still feeling the impact of COVID-19 on college enrollment nationally — and in the most recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the U.S. suffered a 3.2% year-over-year national undergraduate enrollment decline. This after a discouraging spring semester saw a 5% drop in undergraduate enrollment nationally, the most significant year-over-year decline in a decade.  

Due to several factors, including evolving demographics, especially among high-school-aged students nationally, but also in Pennsylvania – which has an aging population — Penn State’s Commonwealth Campuses experienced an overall enrollment decline of 6.6% or 2,102 students. Other factors included the continuation of the pandemic, and increased participation in online education opportunities. Students receiving instruction through Penn State’s World Campus increased by 1.4%. This includes the more than 650 Commonwealth Campus students who have shifted temporarily from in-person classes to World Campus. In total, nearly 5,000 students are enrolled in World Campus academic programs delivered by the Commonwealth Campuses.    

“While our Commonwealth Campuses have experienced a decrease in enrollment numbers, we are encouraged by the fact that the number of first-time undergraduate resident instruction students at the Commonwealth Campuses increased by 2.6% to 6,977 students,” said Yvonne Gaudelius, vice president and dean for undergraduate education. “More than 95% of Pennsylvania residents live within 30 miles of a Penn State campus, making a world-class Penn State degree readily accessible to most Pennsylvanians. Our Commonwealth Campus locations are integral to fulfilling the University’s land-grant mission to provide access to education and public service to citizens of Pennsylvania and beyond, and we are actively analyzing any change in enrollment while continuing to engage with our communities.” 

For the third straight year, the number of underrepresented students at Penn State — those who self-identify as Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Native Alaskan, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander — has risen. Underrepresented student enrollment increased 3% from 2020 to 2021. The largest increase in underrepresented student enrollments was seen in first-time undergraduates, with a nearly 18% increase from 2020. 

“We are excited about the critical uptick in interest and enrollment from underrepresented groups and the continuing evolution of diversity that it creates for our campuses,” said Gaudelius. “This important  change for three years in a row hopefully speaks to the resources and support that have been put in place for vital community building, and represents progress in creating a diverse community that enriches the overall student experience for everyone.” 

While many other institutions across the U.S. have seen a decline in international enrollments since the beginning of the pandemic – with overall U.S. enrollment down 16% from fall 2019 to fall 2020 – Penn State international enrollment is leveling. The university experienced an 11.4% decrease from 2019 to 2020, rebounding with a slight 0.8% increase from 2020 to 2021. 

Despite a 10.2% dip in enrollment of new international undergraduates, new international graduate student enrollment at Penn State experienced a substantial 64.3% increase. This rise, combined with the significantly growing number of new international undergraduate students receiving instruction through World Campus (197.8%), contributed to this year’s slight increase in total international student enrollment. 

Across the country, international students continue to face challenges as they prepare to travel to the U.S., including lingering COVID-related health precautions and VISA and travel restrictions.  

“I’m confident recent initiatives by the U.S. State and Education departments and Penn State’s active commitment to support the needs of international students will continue to bolster international recruitment and partnerships,” said Rob Springall, assistant vice president for Undergraduate Education and executive director for Undergraduate Admissions. “Initiatives like the International Student Recruiting and Experience Task Force will aid us in adding to the overall diversity of the vibrant global community at Penn State.”  

In total, 61% of Penn State’s first-time incoming class for fall 2021 selected the University’s new test-optional admissions process, allowing students to decide whether they want to submit SAT/ACT scores with their college application. The change has made the University more accessible to many students who lack resources, such as standardized testing prep courses, and contributed to a 22.7% increase in first-year applications, while maintaining the overall academic quality of the incoming class. Penn State has extended test-optional admissions through 2023

Graduate and professional enrollment 
Penn State’s Graduate School programs enrolled a total of 13,873 students for the fall 2021 semester, a decline of almost 1.2% from last year.  

The College of Medicine as a location saw enrollment numbers totaling 995, up 1% from 2020, with enrollment in College of Medicine programs at 671 (-0.3%) students.  

Overall law school enrollment – including Dickinson Law and Penn State Law – was up 35.9% from 2020 at 894 students. A noted increase from years past, the rise in numbers is primarily attributed to a delayed start for Penn State Law’s international students in fall 2020.  

Pennsylvania resident student enrollment 
This fall, the total proportion of students enrolled at Penn State who are Pennsylvania residents is 59.3%. Out-of-state student enrollment numbers, which include international students, comprise 40.7%, reflecting an increase of 2.1% of non-PA resident students. 

The latest figures can be found online at the Data Digest website, formerly the Penn State Fact Book.  

SOURCE: Penn State University.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.