PITTSBURG — Pittsburg State University’s fall 2015 semester saw the first decline in enrollment the last five years, according to Dr. Lee Young, the university’s associate vice president of enrollment management and student success.

Enrollment dropped in fall 2015 to 7,244 students compared to 7,479 students in fall 2014.

Young said the decline was due to a higher number of graduates in spring 2015 with around “1,100 to 1,200 students.” He said the number is usually closer to 950 to 1,000 students. The difference has the university playing catch up.

Another factor, Young said, was a change in the demographics.

Universities throughout the state saw similar trends of growth drop in fall 2015.

Kansas State University had a few years of marginal growth before fall 2015 enrollment dropped by 620 students from fall 2014 – Wichita State also experienced a decline (508) and Emporia State (20).

Pat Bosco, vice president for student life and dean of students at KSU, had a different factor leading to the decline.

“We experienced a slight decline in enrollment directly related to the changes in state of Kansas admission requirements,” Bosco said.

Bosco said more stringent standards put forth by the Kansas Board of Regents a few years ago went into effect in fall 2015. The regulations raise the requirements to get into a two- and four-year school.

Working with potential applicants and parents to know and meet the new standard will allow enrollment to begin increasing, again, he said.

Young believes “flagship” universities like KSU, which already have high qualifications, may be more susceptible to the new requirements.

Young said the university worked with Fort Scott Community College prior to the rule's implementation to develop a program allowing students to still enroll at PSU while working to meet the new standards.

Young said there’s a “possibility” spring 2016 will be lower than the year before. Those numbers are not official until the 20th day of classes.

Another factor, Young said, was declining enrollment in 38 to 40 counties PSU targets from Kansas City to Oklahoma.

“Out of those counties, probably only 12 to 14 are expected to have either stable or a slight increase in high school seniors for the next few years,” he said. “With a smaller population, means you have a smaller pool to choose from.”

The last factor Young mentioned was competition with the rising number of “online educational options” and community colleges.

Although, Young believes the university's marketing strategies with the occasional “tweak” will allow the university to continue an overall trend of enrollment growth.

He pointed to things like Gorilla Advantage, which allows in-state tuition to students in contiguous counties in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. And a newer program called Gorilla Edge.

“Recently, within the last two years, we have implemented what we call the (Gorilla) Edge,” Young said. “Which now is inclusive of the entire state of Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. And that gives you 150 percent (the price of in-state tuition).”

The university also purchases ACT/SAT scores along with contact info to find potential students. The other, more conventional methods include advertising and having a presence at college fairs in the four state areas.

Young said the university usually has roughly 2,200 applicants for each fall. About 45 to 50 percent are converted to students.

“We want to increase that conversion rate,” he said.

— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at mstavola@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.