Cleveland State University president Laura Bloomberg, second from right, helps first-year students move into on-campus dorms.
Cleveland State University president Laura Bloomberg, second from right, helps first-year students move into on-campus dorms. CSU's number of new admitted students this spring increased by 25%. Credit: Cleveland State University

One of the most important metrics college leaders track is enrollment – but who does and doesn’t enroll also matters more broadly to the Cleveland area.

“From a dollars-and-cents standpoint, the residents of Northeast Ohio should be concerned about enrollment because it could affect the economy and the ecosystem,” said Jonathan Wehner, vice president and dean of admissions, enrollment management and student success at Cleveland State University. 

Plus, Wehner points out, these institutions can help in creating engaged and educated citizens. Having a post-high school degree can help people in lots of ways, from being more civically engaged to living longer. Projected lifetime earnings are higher for this group, too. 

Enrollments nationwide saw huge drops during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, recently released national findings show total postsecondary enrollment clocks in far below what it looked like before the pandemic.

This spring, though, that data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center also highlights that undergraduate enrollment losses leveled off for the second consecutive semester. 

Here’s how things stood at Cleveland’s three largest higher education institutions: Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, and Cuyahoga Community College.

Cleveland State University

  • CSU’s total undergraduate enrollment saw a 4% drop from the same time last year, bringing the total number of that group of students down to 9,369 students. That marks the fourth semester of losses on this front. 
  • One bright spot: Though Wehner said spring isn’t typically viewed as a traditional starting term there, the number of new admitted students this spring increased by 25% to 760 students. 
  • “I think what we’re seeing a fair amount of is students that maybe opted out of education, for one reason or another as part of COVID, are now electing to come back in,” CSU’s Wehner said. 
  • Even with that increase, though, Wehner said it’ll take the university a few years of year-over-year growth among new students for enrollment to reach pre-pandemic levels.

Cuyahoga Community College

  • The spring’s full-time enrollment fell 2% this semester to 3,568 students, but its part-time population rose 3% to 12,476 students. The majority of students nationwide at two-year public colleges enroll part-time. 
  • Speaking of national numbers, the number of high school students taking college classes at community colleges rose this semester. The same happened at Tri-C.
    • Students enrolled in the state’s dual enrollment program–called College Credit Plus–grew to 3,373 students, a 7% year-over-year increase. That means just about one in every five students at the college is a CCP student. 
  • But putting the push on dual enrollment isn’t just about having students earn college credits while in high school, said Tri-C’s Vice President of Enrollment Management Angela Johnson. It helps create a college-going culture in communities.
    •  “It’s also to make sure that it’s a program that’s accessible for students who may not be thinking about college at all so that this is a launchpad for them to enroll and then stay,” she said. `
  • It’s also a pipeline for the college. About a quarter of high school seniors enrolled in CCP there end up enrolling at Tri-C after they graduate high school, according to Johnson.
    • One way Johnson wants to boost that number is with new partnerships with districts that have low college-going rates to “make sure that we are working with the population of students that we want to better serve.” 

Case Western Reserve University

  • The University Circle institution saw 5,903 undergraduates enroll this spring, according to an online dashboard. That’s about a 4.5% increase from the same time last year.
  • Case is joining a national cohort of a dozen universities, including Brown University and Yale University, to help encourage students from small towns and rural communities to learn about what higher education options are out there.
    • “No student should miss the opportunity to apply to a campus that could be a great fit simply because their high school lacks resources to help them become aware of it,” Vice President for Enrollment Management Rick Bischoff said in a release about the STARS College Network
  • Graduate enrollment – an umbrella term that includes things like master’s and doctoral degrees as well as post-baccalaureate certificates – saw drops this fall across the country, according to the Clearinghouse’s findings. Those declines canceled out gains seen during the pandemic. 
  • Case saw about a 3% drop on that front, too, slightly higher than the national average, though this spring’s 5,729 students still marks a 12% increase from the same time a decade ago.

What type of coverage is missing when it comes to higher education in Cleveland? Our reporter Amy Morona wants to know what you think! Send her a note by filling out this form.

Higher Education Reporter (she/her)
Amy, who’s worked in both local and national newsrooms for nearly a decade, previously covered higher education at Crain's Cleveland Business in partnership with the national nonprofit news organization Open Campus. A first-generation college graduate, Amy is committed to highlighting the voices of students in her coverage.