A Cut Above: How Does CofC Measure Up In College Enrollment Slumps?

Over the past 3-5 years, colleges and universities have seen a decline in student enrollment. High School graduates between the ages of 16-24 make up a smaller portion of the population than in previous decades, with 66.7% of that population enrolling in college in 2017. Yet at the same time, there are more colleges to choose from than ever before, meaning that more colleges have fewer students to choose from. Unfortunately for us cougars, College of Charleston is no different. 

According to Christine Workman,director of student life in the Stern Center and advisor to CisternYard Media, the population decline is attributed to certain trends in society. She says that one of the biggest reasons why there aren’t as many 16-24 year olds coming into college is because they were born around 2000-2004. During this time, events like 9/11 and the growing war on terror prevented people from having as many children. Workman also says that personal choices, like having less children and waiting until later in life to have children, have contributed to this population shrink. Workman mentions, however, that we can expect an increase in this population around 2025. 

While most of the colleges being affected by this population decline are small, private colleges in the Northeast, public colleges like CofC, are still being challenged by it. 

South Carolina has 33 public institutions, according to the Commission on Higher Education. As of fall of 2017, 200,621 students were enrolled in these institutions, which was a .2% decrease overall from the previous year (2016). From 2016-2017, it seemed that many South Carolina Institutions had a stagnant enrollment year. Clemson’s enrollment fell by 1.7%, Coastal Carolina’s grew by 2%, UofSC’s grew by 3.7%, while College of Charleston had the largest dip in enrollment of any SC 4-year public institution at a loss of 4.3%. 

With numbers from the Commission on Higher Education comparing enrollment since 2008, College of Charleston still did not match up. UofSC grew by 34.3% between 2008 and 2017, Clemson by 32.9%, CCU by 31.9% and in 9 years, CofC experienced a 2% growth. 

College of Charleston’s best enrollment year, as it was for many schools, was 2013, when the college had 10,044 students. 

When compared to the other college’s headcount enrollment (a figure based off of students enrolled after the add/drop period) Charleston again fell behind. While Clemson experienced a 33% increase in 9 years, CofC experienced a loss of 4.4%. 

So, why does this matter? How does it affect the students and The College? With less students comes less money, and with less money comes the inability to continue to grow as an institution. 

Another important part of the higher education pie is state funding. The state only appropriates 7.4% to public colleges and universities each year, which makes up about 8% of CofC’s funding—a number that Christine Workman says was closer to 20% a decade ago. Because legislative bodies have cut way back on funding when enrollment doesn’t increase, tuition has to. 

College of Charleston had the highest tuition spike since 2008 when compared to UofSC, Clemson and CCU. CofC’s tuition has raised by 42.8% since 2008, with 5.4% of that increase taking place between 2017 and 2018 alone. The Commission on Higher Education states that CofC also has the highest room and board fees in the state, a fact backed up by Workman. 

Workman said that in April or May of last semester, The College realized they were about 200 students short of the projection they had been working with. She went on to say that the reasons for this could be financial aid packages, general education requirements as well as the cost of living in Charleston. 

In an article from The State, Cody Dulaney looked at Harris Pastides’ financial decisions as president of UofSC. Most of Dulaney’s article focuses on Pastides’ choice to favor out-of-state students, instead of students from South Carolina. While UofSC is one of the most expensive public colleges for SC residents, Pastides made sure it was one of the cheapest options out-of-state students could find. 

College of Charleston has its own reputation for serving many out-of-state students. The split of CofC’s student population is 60% in-state, 40% out-of-state. Starting in 2007, SC colleges started to see an influx of out-of-state students which grew until 2016, when it started to decline. For every year I have been at The College, the debate has existed about who we should be loyal to, as a public state institution. Should we follow Pastides’ model and make CofC an affordable hub for out-of-towners, or draw in as many South Carolinians as possible? 

Coming from South Carolina, College of Charleston has a fraught legacy. Most students from South Carolina are drawn to big sports, research institutions like UofSC and Clemson. Others find themselves at technical colleges, looking to get a much less expensive degree, which often directly translates to getting a job. 

For students of color, Charleston and the school’s past racism makes College of Charleston seem like an unsafe bet. For this reason, CofC has the lowest percentage of black students at any public institution in the state. 

In an increasingly tough job market, college-age students are looking for an education that will give them job stability. While a liberal arts education offers a well-rounded and interdisciplinary perspective, many South Carolinians and Americans, struggle to see its connection to the job market. This is why institutions like Goucher College, a private liberal arts school in Maryland, are implementing classes that offer concrete job skills, like computer programming. 

Despite all of these factors seemingly working against us, there is hope. 

Despite current issues with its new president, UofSC and Pastides have been a model to institutions all over the state of South Carolina. Pastides is beloved by the students of UofSC and is often applauded for his commitment to students and presence at UofSC events. 

With the inauguration of our new president, Hsu, it seems good things are on the horizon. Hsu can often be seen on campus giving out free pizza and riding on the bus to friday night futbol. He seems to really care about the student voices and accurately representing them as our president. SGA President George Hicks said about him “he is being very intentional with bringing the current student voices we have now into the process with his plans to get enrollment up.” In a college with 250 years of largely sticking to the status quo, I, and many other students are hopeful for the new energy Hsu is bringing to campus. 

However, maybe this time history is on CofC’s side. When I asked George Hicks his thoughts on low enrollment at the college he had this to say, “I have full faith that [low enrollment] is something the college can overcome. We’ve been here for 250 years and we plan to be here for another 250 more.”

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Zoë Murrie is a Junior Communications and Women’s and Gender major from Columbia, SC. When she’s not writing, she loves plants, burritos and house shows.

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