Katy Abel
MA Department of Higher Education
(617) 994-6932

For Immediate Release
October 27, 2015

Fall 2015 Enrollment Estimates Reported to Board of Higher Education

Community Colleges, State Universities See Cyclical Declines; UMass International Student Enrollments Rise Sharply

October 27, 2015 -- Fall River, MA -- A new enrollment report presented today to the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education shows that overall undergraduate enrollment at the Commonwealth's public colleges and universities has declined by 1.8% since fall 2014, while increasing at three University of Massachusetts campuses and at one state university.

The Fall 2015 Early Enrollment Report, based on enrollment estimates provided by 28 public undergraduate campuses, shows an overall 4.3% decline in open enrollments at the state's community colleges in the last year (representing a loss of 4,181 students); a slight 0.8% decline at the nine state universities (representing a loss of 320 students) and a 1.7% increase in overall enrollments at the four undergraduate campuses of the University of Massachusetts (a gain of 952 students).

Fall Undergraduate Enrollment 1988-2015 shows decrease in enrollment from 2012-2015

Massachusetts is one of fifteen states located in the Northeast and upper Midwest whose populations of high school students are projected to shrink by more than five percent within the next eight years. Many of the community college enrollment declines correspond to population losses in certain regions of the state, such as Cape Cod and the Berkshires.

"These enrollment trends are part of a boom-to-bust cycle that is normal and reflective of both demographic changes and economic trends," said Carlos Santiago, Commissioner of Higher Education for the Commonwealth.  "Still, the overall enrollment dip does give us cause for concern because the Commonwealth is already experiencing significant shortages of college-educated residents needed to fill jobs in high-demand fields. With a shrinking high school population and looming retirements, we will need to work harder and smarter to increase the pool of potential college graduates in the coming years."

"As the economy continues to improve and people are finding it easier to locate jobs, community colleges are seeing enrollment dips across the state and the nation after years of very robust growth," said Middlesex President Dr. James C. Mabry. "Due to focused outreach efforts, growing early college programs, and renewed retention efforts, we're pleased to see that Middlesex Community College's Fall 2015 enrollment did not decline as significantly as predicted. We will continue to meet our mission of access and success for all students, whether that involves acquiring specific job skills, or earning credits for transfer to a university."

Enrollment gains at the University of Massachusetts were largely fueled by a one-year, 19.8% increase in the number of international undergraduate students. The state's flagship campus, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, saw a one-year, 46% jump in the number of international students enrolled for the fall semester, while the University of Massachusetts Lowell saw a 21% gain this past year. Since fall 2012, the number of international students attending UMass has increased 91%, although the total number of students from abroad remains just 3,150 students, or 5.5% of the total UMass undergraduate population.

“We believe that undergraduate enrollment across the UMass system continues to grow and has reached an all-time high because citizens across the Commonwealth, and beyond, recognize that UMass offers a world-class education at a fraction of what students and their families would be asked to pay at a private college or university,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “Given that UMass has achieved a position of international prominence, as evidenced in ranking after ranking, it’s not surprising that we are seeing soaring levels of interest from students here in Massachusetts, across the nation and around the world. While we are committed to being the top-tier, globally engaged public research university that Massachusetts needs, our overarching priority will always be the Commonwealth and its students.”

While seven of the nine state universities reported enrollment declines from fall 2014 and one reported a marginal increase of students, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy saw a 12.1% enrollment gain, the single largest increase reported by any public campus this fall.

"We are very focused on educating students in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines and preparing them for dynamic careers in marine-related industries," said Mass Maritime President and Rear Admiral Francis McDonald, "We have experienced unprecedented demand for seats in the Academy, and are proud of our ability to deliver a solid return on investment for our graduates."

To address the state's need for more college graduates, members of the Board of Higher Education were told, the public higher education system should continue to pursue "The Big Three" strategy outlined in the 2014 Vision Project report, "Degrees of Urgency: Why Massachusetts Needs More College Graduates Now." The strategy unites the undergraduate campuses in a systemwide effort to 1) raise college completion rates 2) close achievement and opportunity gaps that result in fewer students of color and low-income students graduating from college and 3) attract and retain students not currently being served by the public higher education system.

The Fall 2015 Enrollment Highlights presentation to the Board is available here. For 10-year enrollment trends by campus, including these new estimates, please download the detailed Fall Headcount Enrollment spreadsheet.


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