Trustees hear report on enrollment, admissions, financial aid

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State established a new all-time high with 130,754 total applications for admission in 2015 — an increase of 54 percent since 2005, according to Rob Pangborn, vice president and dean for Undergraduate Education, in a report presented Nov. 20 to the University’s Board of Trustees. 

The record application count included 87,859 undergraduate applications — also an all-time high and a 67 percent jump compared to just a decade ago. Of those students accepted to the University this year, the incoming class at University Park totals 7,830 students, with an additional 7,900 students beginning their studies at one of the Commonwealth Campuses.

Total University-wide enrollment for the fall 2015 semester, including undergraduate, graduate, law, medical, World Campus and Penn College students, stands at 97,494, an increase of 1,521 students from last fall.

“Most of the recent enrollment growth has been propelled by the World Campus,” Pangborn said. “Online learners are up more than 1,400 from last year and now comprise more than 12,000 students.”

The official enrollment census is a snapshot of enrollment taken at the sixth week of the fall semester and takes into account all resident and online students at the University.

University Park undergraduate enrollment stands at 40,742 students, an 18 percent increase since 2005. Undergraduate enrollment at the Commonwealth campuses remains in line with its four-year average and currently stands at 29,938, a number that includes all provisional, non-degree, associate and baccalaureate students.

“Baccalaureate enrollments at the Commonwealth Campuses have grown modestly over the last decade as the campuses have added selected four-year programs,” said Pangborn. “Since 2005, students pursuing four-year programs have increased by almost 5,000 to more than 26,000, including an additional 350 over the last year. The baccalaureate growth offsets declines in the students enrolled in associate degree programs.”

Pangborn noted the impact of expanded four-year programs, particularly at the five larger Campus Colleges, comprised of Penn State Abington, Altoona, Berks, Behrend and Harrisburg, is reflected in the increasing number of students staying at these locations to complete their degrees. Upper-division enrollment at these five campuses now stands at 6,314 students — a 33 percent increase since 2005.

“The 14 campuses comprising the University College, whose upper-division enrollments have hovered in the range just under 3,000, are actively engaged in developing baccalaureate programs that better align with regional interests and students’ preference for four-year, rather than two-year, degrees,” said Pangborn.

“Regional collaboration among the campuses, including delivery of shared academic programs and a lower-tier tuition structure, offer the prospect for both cost efficiencies for the campuses and significant savings for students, therefore serving as a viable and attractive complement to Penn State’s longstanding 2+2 academic pathway.”

The 2+2 option, in which students begin their studies at one campus before typically transitioning to University Park to finish their degree, remains popular, but the growing availability of four-year degree programs at the Commonwealth Campuses has helped to moderate upper-division pressures at University Park. As a result, the number of students changing campuses has dropped 10 percent in the last five years, from 4,764 students in 2010-11 to 4,297 students in 2014-15.

While the number of students changing campuses has declined, the number of students transferring to Penn State from other institutions has grown 32 percent in the last 10 years, from 2,184 students in 2005 to 2,879 in 2015 — with 80 percent of transfer students enrolling at a Commonwealth Campus.

In terms of demographics, the distribution of in-state enrollments remained constant this year, with 72 percent of all undergraduates coming from Pennsylvania. 

“Although out-of-state prospects accounted for most of the increase in applications this year, the yield on non-Pennsylvania admissions offers was down somewhat,” Pangborn said. “Interestingly, after our neighbors of New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Virginia, the next highest contributions to our applicant pool and paid-accepts came from the more distant states of California, Florida, Illinois and Texas.”

As global economies have slowed, so, too, did the yield on incoming international students. However, 8,758 international students are enrolled at the University this year, including nearly 6,000 at the undergraduate level and approximately 3,000 pursuing graduate, law or medical degrees.

“We have also seen steady expansion in minority enrollments,” said Pangborn. “Minority students now constitute 24 percent of the fall undergraduate enrollment at the Commonwealth Campuses, as well as the World Campus, and 19 percent at University Park. Recent gains in diversity University-wide have been particularly notable among Hispanic and Latino students, with their numbers increasing by 9 percent compared to last year, to almost 6,000. African-American enrollments increased 2 percent year-to-year, to nearly 5,600.”

Pangborn also addressed the World Campus’ impact on the University. Seventy percent of World Campus students enrolled in undergraduate programs are studying part time, compared to 7 percent of students enrolled at the University’s resident campuses. Pangborn said these numbers reflect the convenience of online study, which is especially important for adult and location-bound students.

“The introduction of online degrees has impacted the mix of students in the University’s resident graduate programs,” said Pangborn. “While doctoral enrollments have remained relatively constant over the past decade, students interested in master’s programs — especially those employed full time or location bound — have been attracted to the convenience of online offerings through the World Campus.

“However, the development of one-year master of professional studies degrees is helping to stabilize the on-campus master’s level enrollments, and several more of these accelerated programs are in the pipeline.”

The final portion of the report addressed student financial aid at the University. Combined, 75,000 students received a total of $1.2 billion in financial assistance in 2014-15. Of that number, 64,134 undergraduate students — comprising 74 percent of the undergraduate student body — received $1 billion in financial aid, with 62 percent of those funds coming in the form of federal grants and loans and another 32 percent coming via private and institutional assistance. Graduate students were awarded $204 million in aid, nearly half of which came in the form of institutional funding, such as graduate assistantships and fellowships.

“Institutional grants and scholarships are an increasingly important component of the aid we can provide to our students and saw significant growth during the University’s ‘For the Future’ campaign,” Pangborn said. “The Trustee Matching Scholarship Program, Chancellor Awards to recruit and support students at the Commonwealth Campuses, and the introduction two years ago of the centrally funded Provost Awards program are crucial to serving Penn State’s goal of access and affordability.

“Combined, these and related institutional resources have more than doubled over the last 10 years, now totaling $121 million and nearly 30,000 awards.”

Penn State is piloting a new microscholarship program — called Raise.me — directed toward students in select Philadelphia high schools. As early as the ninth grade, students who join the program can begin earning credits toward a Penn State scholarship by taking college preparatory classes, demonstrating good attendance, earning good grades, and participating in extracurricular and community activities. Upon graduation and successful admission to Penn State, the accumulated earned credits can be exchanged for a four-year scholarship.

Still in its first year, the program has proved so popular that it will be expanded next year to a number of rural schools in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Last Updated December 03, 2015