Plateauing in expansion, enrollment?

Lanthorn Editorial Board

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From Kindschi to Holton-Hooker to the Clock Tower to the Kirkhof Parking Lot, those who have been around Grand Valley State University for a few years are no strangers to cranes and construction tape. Each summer is marked by piles of dirt and rock as students and staff make adjustments to their walking and driving routes, and occasionally that all spills into the beginning of the fall semester.

The university has announced the next two rounds of construction: renovations to Mackinac and Manitou Halls this upcoming summer and an expansion of Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences (CHS) Simulation Center the year after. 

GVSU has often prided itself on its emphasis on innovation and expansion. But with declining enrollment due to retention rates and lower high school class sizes, we wonder if it’s time for GVSU to change its branding. Should a plateau in the expansions and growth be near? We think so. 

Since its first class in 1963, GVSU’s enrollment has increased from just 224 students to 24,033 this year. The most notable period of growth was from 1995 to 2006, where enrollment increased on an average of about 850 students per year. Since then, it has remained steadily in the 23,000 to 25,000 range.

And while the 2019-20 school year hosts one of our largest freshman classes, it also marks a 2.6 percent decrease in overall enrollment since last year. This is partially due to issues with retention, a drop in graduate students and a state-wide drop in the young adult population.

While the drop in enrollment may not be a large cause for concern, it may mark a change in GVSU’s fast-paced approach to growth. After 59 years of expanding infrastructure, course catalogs and offered majors, GVSU might start changing its focus from expansion to renovation.

We know we can grow and we know we can attract new freshman. But if GVSU has to tighten its purse-strings in upcoming years, perhaps the focus should be on fostering the buildings, programs and initiatives we already have. 

The planned renovations to CHS and Mackinac and Manitou halls reflect a start in this endeavor, and may be a foreshadowing for what’s to come. 

Perhaps after years of rapid expansion, the university can take a breath and start focusing on the renovation of what we do have — making our existing campus the best it can be.