Jacksonville State University enrolled 8,314 students this semester, according to an email Monday from the school’s office for research, planning and collaboration.
The number is the lowest JSU has seen since 2000, when enrollment in the fall was 8,002, according to figures from the university. This year marks the fifth straight year the school’s enrollment has declined.
The latest enrollment represents a 12.5 percent decrease from 2010, when JSU enrolled an all-time high 9,504 students. That was as close as the university has come to reaching its stated goal of enrolling 10,000 students before the consecutive years of decline.
In an interview with The Star last month, President John Beehler said he considered the enrollment trend to be “our biggest challenge” heading into his tenure.
Reached Monday, Timothy King, associate vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, said he was encouraged by how he’s seen the new president approach the issue.
“We just haven’t had an investment that's been substantial enough to get us over the hump,” King said. “Bottom line is, if you don’t invest, you’re not gonna grow. Dr. Beehler understands that.”
Last week, the university posted a job for vice president of enrollment management.
“That person is gonna be the expert on enrollment and focus solely on enrollment. That’s it,” King said.
School officials, including Beehler, have cited a two-pronged reason for JSU’s dipping enrollment. The cost of college has risen, they say, while financial aid has fallen. King said Congress’ cuts to the Pell Grant program, which started in 1972 to help poor students attend college, “killed us.”
“Probably more so than other universities because we serve primarily first-generation and low-income students,” said King, who added that 80 percent of JSU students receive financial aid of some kind.
In April, JSU’s board of trustees approved a 6 percent tuition increase to $300 per credit hour for in-state undergraduate students, or about $7,200 to attend full-time for two semesters, with graduate and out-of-state students typically paying more. King noted the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard database lists JSU as currently the fourth most expensive public university for in-state Alabamians to attend, behind the University of Alabama, Auburn University and the University of Alabama at Huntsville.