Friday, September 28, 2001

Tuition hikes haven't hindered enrollment

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Enrollment at all of Ohio's 13 four-year public universities held steady or increased this year, despite higher-than-usual tuition hikes after lawmakers lifted caps limiting how much the schools can charge students.

        “It's reassuring to see that,” said James McCollum, executive director of the Inter-University Council, made up of the state's university presidents. “It illustrates what we've been saying all along — if you let the market forces drive tuition then enrollment won't drop.”

        Higher education officials welcome the influx of students — and their money — and credit the growth to both aggressive recruiting and a weakening economy. Still, they admit that the higher numbers put stress on housing and class sizes, forcing universities to look at both as they try to ensure that students are getting the most for their money.

        “It's definitely a difficult challenge for us at a time when demand for higher education is up and state revenues are down,” said Joe Brennan, spokesman for the University of Toledo.

        For the first time in a decade, lawmakers this year eliminated a tuition hike cap, which last year was set at 6 percent. Universities argued they needed to raise tuition beyond the limit to make up for smaller funding increases for them in the state's two-year budget.

        After the cap was eliminated, nine universities raised tuition by more than 7 percent, causing some lawmakers to fear that higher costs would deter people from attending the universities.

        That hasn't been the case.

        Enrollments at all but two universities increased. The two exceptions, Ohio State University and Miami University, intentionally kept numbers at the same level. Preliminary figures show enrollment at both schools declined less than 1 percent from a year ago.

        “We want to remain able to best assist the students that we have,” Amy Murray, an Ohio State spokeswoman, said Thursday.

        For many universities trying to grow — including the University of Akron, Youngstown State University and Cleveland State University — the enrollment jumps reversed several years of declines.

        Central State University, Ohio's only public historically black college, posted the largest surge at 24 percent, with the number of students swelling to 1,400 from 1,129 a year ago.

        Several years ago, Central State's enrollment plummeted amid a financial crisis so severe the university was almost shut down. This year, Central State spent nearly $200,000 on a marketing plan to boost its image and numbers.

        Several other universities did the same, making a concerted effort to attract more students because higher enrollments translate into more revenue at a time when the sluggish economy has limited state support.

        For the most part, the universities posted their largest gains in first-year students.


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