Fewer students at JSU, elsewhere will mean tighter school budgets
by Laura Gaddy
Sep 12, 2013 | 4288 views |  0 comments | 78 78 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Students are seen on Jacksonville State University's campus Wednesday. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Students are seen on Jacksonville State University's campus Wednesday. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
JACKSONVILLE — Fewer people are attending colleges across the nation throughout the South and at Jacksonville State University, where enrollment fell for the third year in a row this fall, by 463 students.

Enrollment is down by about 1 percent at public universities across the nation, according to a report published by the National Clearinghouse Research Center. The declines are reducing the amount of money universities receive from tuition and it’s prompting officials to reevaluate their budgets.

“You begin to look at ways to adjust the budget,” said Darrell Morrison, president of the Southern Association of College and Business Officers.

That’s what happening at JSU, where enrollment fell to 8,693 this year from 9,161 at the same time last year. That means 468 fewer students enrolled at JSU in 2013 by last week. JSU has added 173 students since reported the official enrollment number last week, according to Rebecca Turner, vice president for academic and student affairs. That enrollment boost will help, she said.

But, officials say, the smaller number of students will mean less money for the school to operate on.

“We’ll all have to make adjustments,” said JSU President Bill Meehan. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

For now, a small group of university administrators is meeting weekly to determine whether and where the university will have to cut its budget. Early talks have included reducing summer employment for full-time instructors and reducing payroll costs through attrition, Turner said.

Morrison is also vice chancellor for Finance and Administration at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith. He spent part of his day Wednesday trying to adjust that institution’s budget to reflect revenue losses linked to declining enrollment there.

He said colleges across the South have seen enrollment decline on average between 2 percent and 3 percent this year. The loss of money from declining enrollment is exacerbating deep cuts in state funding felt by institutions across the region, he said.

At JSU, state funding has declined by $14 million since 2008, Meehan said. Over that same period tuition has increased steadily.

The effect of the financial loss associated with the declines in enrollment and state revenue could include laying off employees, reduction in pay or benefits, a reduction in course offerings, decreased grounds maintenance or increased class sizes, Morrison said.

The reasons for the loss of students can be linked, in part, to changes at the federal level. Fewer students are eligible for Pell Grants and the interest rates on federal student loans have waffled in recent months. Those changes at the federal level are believed to have an effect at JSU, where 80 percent of the student body are reliant on some form of financial aid, Meehan said.

He said Congress waited until August to adjust student loan rates, and by then students had already made their plans.

Though it is believed to be improving, another factor believed to be affecting the rate of college attendance at four-year institutions is the economy.

This year the number of students enrolled in entry-level courses at JSU has fallen by 1,000 credit hours, Turner said. That, she said, is an indication that students are taking their first two years of courses at community colleges, where tuition can be less expensive.

“I think the market is leading students to shop around for what their budgets can bear,” she said.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.

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