Fall enrollment totaled 9,161 students, according to numbers released by Alicia Simmons, director of the university’s Office of Institutional Research. This year’s enrollment is down by 329 students, or 3.5 percent from last year’s figure of 9,490.
“We certainly don’t have any information as to why it dipped at this point,” Simmons said. “There are all sorts of reasons that we can’t even capture from our data as to why the numbers go up and down. We haven’t even begun to start parsing out the data yet to see any more about who came, who didn’t, retention, all of that.”
Fewer freshmen have joined the university’s ranks this year, but it is the second-highest freshman class JSU has ever seen, said university President William Meehan. This year’s figure of 1,331 incoming first-time freshmen is down 5.8 percent from last year’s class of 1,414 students.
With two of the largest freshmen classes in the school’s history, Andrew Green, director of enrollment management, believes that the school’s matriculation will continue to increase.
“We have done a great job of keeping our students,” he said. “Scholarships have increased our retention.”
They are also a deciding factor for new students who choose to come to JSU. Stevey Beardin, an 18-year-old student from Columbiana, chose JSU over the University of Alabama, Auburn University and University of Montevallo because JSU offered her the largest scholarship.
This year’s fall isn’t statistically alarming to Simmons. “If you look, I think you just expect that,” she said.
Likewise, Meehan isn’t very concerned by the dip. “These things go in cycles up and down,” he said, noting that total enrollment figures have increased over the last decade or so. In 2000, the university enrolled 8,002 students.
“A college degree is very important,” he said. “It’s the best defense against unemployment.”
A Georgetown study released last month shows that in 2012, 7 percent of individuals with at least a four-year degree are unemployed as compared to 24 percent for high school graduates.
Simmons said that while enrollment has been up for the past four years, there was a great deal of fluctuation in prior years, as enrollment hovered around 9,000. Since 2008, totals have remained between about 9,350 and 9,500.
University administrators have been working toward an enrollment goal of 10,000 students for several years.
“It’s just a nice round number that we’re shooting for,” Meehan said.
Meehan said it’s important for the university to see growth because the institution is continually less dependent on state funding. “That tells us we might need to look elsewhere,” he said. More students mean more tuition revenue, and more revenue means more possibilities for the university.
Despite the university’s goal of enrolling 10,000 students, there are those who are fine with the size just as it is.
Nursing student Breanah Taylor came to campus this fall from Evergreen. She chose JSU over Alabama A&M, Auburn University at Montgomery and Tuskegee after coming to Gamecock Orientation over the summer.
“I like everything,” she said, noting the proximity of her dorm in Curtis Hall to the rest of campus and the friendly nature of the people she met over the summer and during this first week on campus.
For Beardin, the size of the university strikes a nice balance for students. “I like this campus because it’s still got the feel of a bigger college — like there’s still stuff going on everywhere — but it’s still small enough to where you can see people more than once and you can walk everywhere,” she said. “It has the feel of a big college but it’s actually small.”
Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.