Even as demographics signal bad news for future enrollment at Ohio State University’s regional campuses, the satellites have an ace in the hole: Ohio State’s ever-increasing selectivity.
Rising concern about the cost of tuition and student debt doesn’t hurt, either.
Every year, the main campus in Columbus takes just under half of applicants, prompting thousands of would-be Buckeyes who aren’t accepted to begin their Ohio State careers at one of four regional campuses. Once they’ve amassed 30 credit hours and are in good academic standing, they’re eligible to transfer to Columbus.
The Lima, Mansfield, Marion and Newark campuses were established in the 1950s and ’60s to accommodate hordes of baby boomers interested in Ohio State degrees. In the past 15 years or so, as getting accepted to the Columbus campus as a freshman has gotten increasingly harder, the regional campuses have become more important as side doors for those willing to take a detour.
That’s especially true for the Newark campus, where the majority of freshmen now come from Franklin County. Until recently, the majority were from Licking County, said Cheri Russo, spokeswoman for the Newark campus. “Two years ago, we flipped,” she said.
The widening of Route 161 between Columbus and Granville in the mid-2000s eased the commute between the Columbus area and Newark, said William MacDonald, executive dean of regional campuses and head of the Newark campus. It probably helped the Newark enrollment grow modestly in the past decade while the other regional campuses shrank.
After years of steady enrollment growth that peaked in 2009, the regional campuses began seeing declines each year that totaled 19 percent between 2009 and 2016. Without Newark, that number would look a lot worse: The Lima and Mansfield campuses lost close to 30 percent and Marion 35 percent.
Budgets tell a similar story. Adjusted for inflation, Lima’s and Marion’s budgets have dropped by 30 percent since 2009, while Mansfield’s is down by 19 percent and Newark’s by 11 percent.
The primary culprit, MacDonald said, is birthrates. Statistics from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education show that the number of graduating high school seniors in Ohio dropped by nearly 8 percent in that period. Although the number has been relatively flat for a few years, it is projected to resume dropping in 2019-20, with no relief in sight.
Unlike the Columbus campus, where a third of undergraduate students come from other states or countries, regional campuses enroll few students from out of state.
That could change, at least at Lima, said Jennifer Evans-Cowley, vice provost for capital planning and regional campuses. Because the state of Indiana allows Ohioans in the counties around Lima to attend Indiana state schools at the in-state tuition rate, OSU officials are considering a reciprocal agreement allowing Indiana residents to pay in-state tuition to attend OSU’s Lima campus. “It’s only reasonable,” Evans-Cowley said.
The Newark and Marion campuses enjoy some immunity from the demographic drop because the population growth in Franklin and Delaware counties bucks the state trend, MacDonald said. Enrollment at the Lima, Marion and Newark campuses saw an uptick from fall 2015 to fall 2016, and Marion campus officials are touting a spring-2016-to-spring-2017 jump of 117 students, or 12 percent.
The university’s five-year enrollment plan calls for flat numbers at the regional campuses, Evans-Cowley said. The decline in the number of 18-year-olds could be countered by greater numbers of OSU applicants who need the regional-campus side door. The average ACT score for incoming freshmen in Columbus has been rising each year; the current year’s crop had an average of 29.2, with half scoring between 28 and 32. At the Marion campus, the average ACT score is 22.5.
Still, some freshmen choose a regional campus as a way to save on tuition. Because lawmakers have allowed state universities to raise tuition more at main campuses than at regional campuses, a gap has opened. Full-time tuition and fees at Ohio State’s regional campuses is $7,140, compared with $10,037 for the Columbus campus.
“When we talk to our students about why they chose a regional campus, the number one thing they mention is affordability,” Evans-Cowley said.
With high schools and the news media paying more attention to the perils of high student debt, MacDonald said, “it’ll become more and more normative to start at a regional campus.”
Although most students move on from the regional campuses after a year or two, some stay. Emily Hankinson of Alexandria was admitted to the Columbus campus but liked the smaller campus and lower price at Newark. She’s graduating this year with a degree in English and has been accepted to OSU for graduate school.
Hunter Spittler of the Cleveland area came to the Newark campus the more typical way: because she didn’t get accepted to Columbus. Like many in that boat, she was furious.
“I hated the fact that I had to come here,” she said. “Since fifth grade, I’ve wanted to go to Ohio State.”
Now, she’s a social-work sophomore, active in several student groups and planning to stay through her bachelor’s degree.
Each campus has at least seven programs in which bachelor’s degrees can be earned on-site, and each offers a few other degree programs, including master’s and associate-degree options. Even where full degrees can’t be earned, regional campuses are adding classes to help with unmet demand. They’re adding engineering classes, and each campus aims eventually to allow two years of those high-demand majors to be completed away from Columbus.
Still, officials say, the main mission is to provide a start for Ohio State careers that will finish in Columbus.
“Our goal isn’t to grow and become another Columbus,” MacDonald said. “We are access points, and we’re happy to play that feeder role.”
Source: The Columbus Dispatch