According to studies released last month by the Southern Regional Education Board, growth in college enrollment by men from 2005 to 2010 outpaced that of women for the first time in decades in the Southern region. Minority students saw gains nationwide during the same time, outpacing enrollment by white students in every region of the country.
At Jacksonville State, enrollment has long been a focus for an institution trying to attain a threshold of 10,000 students. At JSU, minority enrollment during the study period ballooned by more than 32 percent, but enrollment by white students actually fell by 4.6 percent—something that was rare among SREB states.
Skyler Bass, a rising junior and president of JSU’s African American Association, said the university was more diverse than she expected it to be. “When I came as a freshman, a lot of the students I saw looked like me, meaning they were African-American,” she said.
Organizations like hers, said Bass, help minority students to have more of a presence on campus and promote interaction with a variety of students in other campus clubs through activities and events.
Tacking the trends
Joe Marks, the director of education data services with the SREB, said his organization has long had a focus on increasing educational attainment, with regional and national goals calling for 60 percent of working adults to have a college degree or career certificate in the years ahead. If the rates for women stabilize and don’t for men — roughly half the population — that could have a negative effect on the attainment rates for the total population. Likewise, as minorities become a larger percentage of the population, their educational attainment rates have a greater impact on the population at large.
“If their rates remain as they were in the ’80s and ’90s and even 2000, where we’ll end up in 2020 is less educational attainment as a whole,” Marks said. More minority students have to go to college to keep educational attainment rates from backsliding.
“It looks like that is what’s happening,” he said. “The question is, is it enough?”
“Obviously for the university, enrollment is a goal,” said Andrew Green, JSU’s director of enrollment management. “We even have a stated number we’re working toward, something we’ve been working toward for quite some time.”
Green said he’s never mapped out where the university’s minority students are coming from, but he noted that within a two-hour drive of the school are the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery — urban areas where he said more underrepresented students live. “We travel to all of those areas and recruit students,” he said.
Green said he had no initial thoughts as to why the university saw a decline in white students, though he did say the university could potentially dive into research as to why accepted students choose not to attend JSU.
This decline in white students slowed growth in JSU’s total student enrollment, which bumped up 4.3 percent. Jacksonville State lagged behind the state as a whole, which saw a 27.1 percent increase in student enrollment, and peer schools such as the University of North Alabama and Troy University with 12.7 and 14.9 percent increases, respectively.
According to the SREB study, only Delaware and Oklahoma saw enrollment decline among white students, at 2.2 and 0.8 percent respectively. These are the only two instances of decline in enrollment among Southern states in any subgroup shown in the study. Across Alabama, minority and white students saw enrollment increases of 31.8 percent and 18 percent respectively. Other state institutions such as Troy University and the University of North Alabama saw similar rises in enrollment by minority students.
More men, too
Gains by men were more subtle. At Jacksonville State, increases in men’s enrollment outpaced women’s 6.6 percent to 2.7 percent, a difference of 3.9 percentage points. Enrollment gains have been much higher across the state and region. In Alabama, 28.4 percent more men were enrolled in college in 2010 than in 2005. For women, enrollment grew 26.2 percent. Across the region enrollment for men and women grew 26.5 and 23.1 percent, respectively.
Gregory Fitch, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, said that the increase in enrollment colleges are seeing is likely the result of a focus on preparation, a key piece of the commission’s five-year strategic plan for the state.
Fitch said more Alabama students are graduating from high school, more are taking Advanced Placement exams (which he said essentially lets them try out for college-level coursework), and more students are taking and succeeding on the ACT college entrance exam. He noted that 81 percent of students in the state took the ACT last year and the state’s average scores are improving.
JSU’s Green noted that the university’s 2011 incoming freshmen had the highest average ACT score the university has recorded at 21.8. Recruitment efforts, he said, are targeted at finding students who are academically prepared to succeed at JSU.
“Demographics don’t play into that,” he said. “We are a diverse campus and understand that as students graduate, they will be in a global marketplace,” he said.
For Bass — an involved and successful student when she was at Austin High School in Decatur — the transition from high school to living on her own as a student at JSU wasn’t as major as she thought it would be.
“It wasn’t as bad as I expected because my teachers prepared me and my honors classes and all that,” she said. “I thought it would be a lot harder because of what my teachers were telling me … It taught me to be independent and self-reliant.”
Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.