GV, Oakland withstand enrollment drops over past years

James Kilborn

With the number of in-state high school graduates decreasing, many Michigan public universities are struggling to attract prospective students. In contrast with these schools are Grand Valley State University and Oakland University, which both experienced an increase in enrollment over the past decade. 

Michigan’s high school graduation has decreased to a projected 99,000 students for the 2019-2020 academic year, down from a high of 123,576 students in the 2007-2008 academic year. These dwindling class sizes prompt serious concerns from universities across the state, as the overall student body from which to pull from is becoming increasingly smaller every year. 

Both Central Michigan University and Eastern Michigan University have experienced more than a 20 percent decline in enrollment over the past decade, and other universities such as Wayne State University and Saginaw Valley State University have seen enrollment declines of more than 10 percent during the same period. 

Along with Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, GVSU and OU have bucked the declining-enrollment trend, as students have attended both institutions in greater numbers over the past decade. 

Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management at OU Dawn Aubry cites the university’s location in southeast Michigan as a major factor influencing prospective students, as many desire job opportunities within the most populated portion of the state. 

“I believe many students are drawn to Oakland for our strong academic offerings, beautiful campus and unique out-of-class experiences,” Aubry said. “We offer an affordable education in a great location. So many students want to secure an internship while they are enrolled in college and our Rochester campus offers access to many business and health care companies that are first rate. Our students are able to secure jobs or gain admission to graduate school upon graduation.”

Both GVSU and Oakland University act as regional universities, with GVSU serving west Michigan counties and Oakland University serving counties within Metro Detroit. This winter semester, 36.7 percent of students at Grand Valley came from either Kent, Muskegon or Ottawa counties. A similar pattern exists at Oakland University. 

“Most of our student enrollment is from Michigan,” Aubry said. “Our top feeder counties are Oakland, Macomb and Wayne. However, we have seen an increase from students from other counties around the state such as Genessee, Kent, St. Clair, Washtenaw, Ingham and Lapeer (counties).”

Although these universities attract most incoming students from communities across Michigan, there’s been an added emphasis in attracting out-of-state and international students as well. According to Associate Vice President and University Registrar at GVSU Pam Wells, there were 1,783 out-of-state students and 396 international students for the Fall 2018 semester. 

Incoming President Philomena Mantella seeks to strengthen the already-strong ties between GVSU and the Grand Rapids region, seeing adults considering completing a four-year degree as another source of enrollment for the university. This coincides with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s proposals to boost the number of Michigan residents with a post-secondary level of education to 60 percent by 2030. 

While many Michigan universities seek to address challenges associated with declining high school graduating classes and an aging population, both GVSU and OU have attracted students from not only their prospective regions but from other parts of the world, ensuring they remain strong institutions of higher learning within the state.