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CMU enrollment drops 10 percent, steepest decline in past decade

Central faces steepest drop of all public universities in the state


The Central Michigan University seal sits in front of Warriner Hall Aug. 25 on CMU's campus.

Fall enrollment at Central Michigan University was 19,431 in 2019, a 10 percent decrease from the previous year, according to the university's official end-of-semester report

There were 21,705 students enrolled in Fall 2018. This year's decline was the steepest drop in enrollment CMU has seen in the past decade.

"We're down, and we knew we were going to be down," President Bob Davies said at the Feb. 13 board of trustees meeting. "This did not occur overnight and the fix will not occur overnight."

Davies said CMU has responded to declining enrollment by increasing marketing efforts in areas like Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing, as well as marketing toward potential students earlier in their high school career. 

CMU has also added more merit-based and need-based financial aid, which Davies believes will result in a larger number in applications in the coming weeks as potential students begin receiving financial aid letters.

The president said based on his current projections, he's optimistic that CMU will hit its goal of 2,700 new freshman next year. There were 2,473 new freshmen this year, which came just below the university's goal of 2,500.

CMU faced the steepest enrollment decline out of the 15 public universities in the state, according to a Fall 2019 enrollment report from the Michigan Association of State Universities. Lake Superior State University saw the second steepest enrollment decline, with an 8 percent drop in enrollment. Only two public universities in the state, the University of Michigan and Northern Michigan University, saw an increase in enrollment in the fall semester. 

Central's enrollment decline will not be rectified overnight, said Tony Voisin, interim vice president of Enrollment and Student Services. But he said university officials are encouraged by the steps that have been taken to combat dropping enrollment.

"The initial numbers show that we're seeing an increase in applications, which is very positive," Voisin said. "Things are trending well, we just still have more to do and must continue to push forward."

In the Fall 2019 semester there were 14,672 undergraduate students and 4,759 graduate students. There were 967 transfer students this year, a slight drop from 1,056 transfer students in Fall 2018.

Davies said the university is focusing heavily on becoming more transfer student-friendly.

"We have not done a good job with transfer students," he said, "and that has to do with multiple reasons: The policies we have in place, building a sense of rapport for transfer students and increasing the number of programs that will embrace transfer students. We must be transfer-friendly."

Overall, CMU students completed a total of 244,329 credit hours last semester – of which, 200,427 were completed on CMU's main campus, 40,613 were completed online and 3,289 were completed through global campus.

The one-year and two-year retention rates of CMU students dropped to 74 percent and 68 percent, respectively. 

CMU's official end-of-semester report was published in January, although university officials did not announce the release of the data. CMU is the only one of Michigan's 15 public universities that releases its official enrollment statistics after the Fall semester, as opposed to the beginning. University officials released preliminary enrollment projections in October.