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AUM enrollment in decline

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Enrollment at Antioch University Midwest has dropped to an all-time low this spring. While many colleges and universities have shown signs of suffering from the recession, Midwest’s decline has been steeper than that of its sister institutions in the region. And while the university system has remained stable enough to support the local campus, relatively flat enrollment university-wide has recently forced the tuition-dependent Midwest campus to deplete its own reserves and cut its budget, along with faculty and staff positions.

The decline at Midwest is partly linked to its long-time dependence on the education department whose teacher training program accounted for 60 to 70 percent of its undergraduate and graduate degree students, according to Antioch University Chancellor Felice Nudelman. The recession led to cuts in state public education funding after which teaching jobs dried up and so did student numbers at Midwest.

“The lesson I’ve learned as the chancellor is that you can’t build a campus on the strength of one program,” she said in an interview last week.

Though the numbers at Midwest may be low right now, Nudelman believes the university will “weather the storm,” she said. The university’s Los Angeles campus is “booming,” and Santa Barbara and Seattle campuses are stable. And while Midwest’s education program is down at the moment, the quality of that program remains high — evidenced by its students’ 100 percent passage rate on the 2013 teacher licensure exam, an accomplishment just five other institutions in the state can boast about, according to Nudelman. And Antioch University Connected, the university’s online education program, is getting ready to launch next month, which will make Antioch programs available to a whole new pool of students and likely boost enrollment.

Nudelman is confident that as long as the university focuses on supporting enrollment, admissions, and the school’s core mission to empower people to live meaningful lives in the service of social justice, the university and Midwest will come out fine.

“We may not recover to former levels at all, but the signs are looking up,” she said recently.

Midwest decline steeper than most
Enrollment at Midwest has been declining over a period of about five years, during which time combined enrollment among Antioch University’s five other campuses was relatively flat. According to a 2011 report by the American Association of University Professors and the university’s 2013 accreditation report, total Antioch University enrollment went from 3,600 in 2007 to 3,177 in 2012, most of the drop can be attributed to the decline at Midwest.

In 2004, when Midwest (then known as AU McGregor) moved into its new building on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road, headcount enrollment during fall term was 737 students. That number, projected to increase by 10 percent each year, was used to justify the new $15 million building. But instead of growth, Midwest experienced either flat or declining enrollment, so that in 2009 Midwest had 698 students enrolled in the fall, and by 2012 the number was down to 364, according to data from the Ohio Board of Regents, or OBR, and the university’s accreditation report. But this winter, according to one university employee, who asked to remain unnamed due to job-related concerns, Midwest enrollment was down further to 317 students, about 15 percent of whom are part-time students.

The decline represents more than a 50 percent drop in enrollment over three years. While other public and private universities and colleges in the region have also experienced a drop in enrollment, most have stayed between a 5 and 25 percent decline. The Dayton Business Journal reported that Sinclair Community College enjoyed record enrollment in 2011, but between 2011 and 2013, Sinclair’s enrollment fell 9 percent to 22,000 students. According to OBR data, during that same two years, Central State declined 18 percent, Wright State University declined 9 percent and Clark State declined 3 percent.

For area private colleges, the story is more mixed. Wilberforce University has struggled for over a decade, retracting 23 percent between 2000 and 2009 to 710 students and enrolling just 460 last fall, according to Wittenberg University has also suffered, according to a 2013 Inside Higher Education story, which showed enrollment fell 9.5 percent to a freshman class low of 521 students that forced the system to cut $4.5 million from its budget, including 29 occupied and unoccupied faculty positions.

Meanwhile, other private colleges have sailed through the recession. Cedarville University, for example, saw record enrollment of 3,500 students last fall, and Urbana University stayed steady at around 750 students, according to the Dayton Business Journal.

Area universities have reported a combination of factors contributing to the recent drop in student enrollment, including the recession and the associated reduction in state financial aid, and the 2012 state-mandated conversion from quarters to semesters for public schools. The loss of financial aid support for education programs in Ohio has affected Midwest, according to Nudelman, who also believes the decline in public education funding “shut down hiring in education” as well as students seeking education degrees.

The enrollment decline has led to an ongoing deficit at Midwest. In 2011 the board of trustees meeting minutes showed Midwest would have a $350,000 deficit, and the following year Midwest president Ellen Hall announced that the school would need to make $208,000 in budget cuts by the end of the year. The school also projected a $2 million deficit for 2013, after which enrollment fell further to the current low. And as one small measure of the future, a university employee reported that as of the beginning of April, Midwest had 46 inquiries for the fall, a fraction of the usual number for this time of year.

University leaders declined to describe exactly how the budget reductions at Midwest have affected staffing, but according to Nudelman, since her arrival in July 2012, Midwest has cut a single faculty position and five staff positions. At that time, the campus formerly employed 19 full-time faculty, 39 adjunct faculty and 12 unionized staff members. However, according to a former university staff member who wished to remain anonymous due to professional concerns, full-time faculty numbers have fallen from around 37 in 2004 to 11 last year.

Looking ahead
There are many reasons to believe that the tide will return Midwest to a stable course, not the least of which is the university’s commitment to supporting a resurgence for its flagship campus, Nudelman said.

In January the university hired new Midwest President Karen Schuster Webb, whose international background in pedagogy in higher education fits with Midwest’s foundation as a school for adult teacher training. Midwest is initiating new certificate granting ability and looking at adding new degree granting programs in health and healthcare. And on May 4, Midwest will celebrate the commencement of 118 graduates at Kuss Auditorium in Springfield.

At the university level, AU has filled a university-wide enrollment management position and is currently seeking its first permanent vice-chancellor of enrollment management. All the campuses, including Midwest, are adding admissions counselors to support the admissions director at each location. Antioch University Connected will begin offering all of the university’s undergraduate courses online next month, and in the fall, the master’s and graduate courses will also be available online. And organizationally for greater cross-campus collaboration, faculty from all six schools have come together with university administrators to create a university academic council that serves to advise the chancellor. The group is currently considering over 100 ideas for new programs to add to the university’s total offerings.

Antioch University has also achieved recognition as an educational innovator and was one of 18 U.S. institutions selected to participate in the national Competency-Based Education Network, or C-BEN, project to advance high-quality competency-based education models. The university will use also a $50,000 grant from the Gates Foundation to develop competency-based programs through AU Connected with a cohort of eight other colleges. And the university has been asked to help the Higher Learning Commission’s Academy on Student Persistence and Completion to improve student performance.

As for the unique situation at the campus in Yellow Springs, the university has been absorbing Midwest’s deficits while still maintaining strong reserves, which Nudelman reported were at $22 million last year. And the Higher Learning Commission reissued the university’s accreditation this year for another 10 years, but will return in 2016 for a “focused visit” to analyze the university’s finances. While Antioch University received a perfect score on the U.S. Department of Education’s annual “financial responsibility” test for 2011, according to staff, the HLC’s mid-term review is indicative of its concern for the institution’s long-term fiscal stability.


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