Student enrollment at Virginia Commonwealth University shrank slightly this year to about 28,300, the fourth consecutive year the university’s enrollment has fallen.
Enrollment has declined 9% since the fall of 2018, when there were more than 31,000 students at VCU. The vast majority of losses that year occurred in the College of Humanities and Sciences, which houses departments such as biology, English, history, mathematics and physics.
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“Students continue to appreciate the value of a college degree,” said Tomikia LeGrande, VCU vice president of strategy, enrollment management and academic success.
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The decline in student enrollment has left VCU with a $13 million budget deficit.
There are numerous reasons fewer students are choosing VCU, including increasing competition from out-of-state colleges, the precipitous decline in community college enrollment, tuition fees, the meteoric rise in rents in downtown Richmond, and a perception of danger on the campus.
In other states, the number of high school graduates has declined as a result of demographic change. But Virginia’s population has remained flat, meaning out-of-state colleges are increasingly marketing to Virginia’s high school grads. NC State and the University of Alabama are VCU’s biggest extrastate competitors.
“It’s real and it’s shocking” how hard schools in other states are pursuing Virginia high schools, said Todd Haymore, a member of the visitors’ committee.
Community colleges have seen a 25% drop in enrollment over the past decade. They serve as feeder schools for the VCU.
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While tuition remained unchanged this year for state students, the cost of fees and room and board increased. In-state students pay approximately $15,000 annually for tuition, fees, and room and board before the scholarship. As the cost of college has risen and employers are offering better starting wages, some high school graduates choose to enter the workforce immediately.
More than 20,000 VCU students live off campus, where rents have skyrocketed. According to a Rent.com report in July, the city’s average rent rose 36% year-on-year. The average one bedroom apartment costs more than $1,500 per month.
On Labor Day weekend, a person fired from a moving vehicle on Grace Street near Richmond Police Department, just blocks from campus, according to the university’s crime log. The perception that VCU’s campus is dangerous is costing VCU students, said Karol Kain Gray, the university’s chief financial officer. She said the university is investing more in its police department.
The $13 million budget shortfall has meant VCU has frozen jobs, failed to increase salaries for some employees, failed to fund certain information and technology projects, and failed to fund a new research plan for the university, Gray said.
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To rebuild enrollment, VCU will focus on enrolling a higher percentage of students attending orientation. Some even withdraw after paying the deposit. It will continue to seek to overhaul its curriculum as schools within VCU that have revised their curriculum or offered new programs are seeing growth. The university will market itself to working adults who do not have a degree or any college and will continue to compete for students of the traditional age.
Nationwide, college enrollment fell 7%, or 1.3 million students, between spring 2020 and spring 2022. Updated national data will be available later this fall.
Virginia colleges have taken different paths in recent years. The state’s most elite schools, such as the University of Virginia, College of William & Mary, and Virginia Tech, have seen a flood of applicants. But schools like Longwood University and Radford University have lost significant parts of their student bodies.
VCU students are increasingly opting for fields of study with obvious career paths. Subjects such as business, healthcare and engineering are growing. The College of Humanities and Sciences, where the path to a career is not as clear, has shrunk.
VCU enrollment has shrunk by 2% or 571 students this year. Among the 571 were nearly 500 in the College of Humanities and Sciences.
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