Expecting COVID-19 to keep students closer to home, universities nationwide braced themselves for a drop in enrollment this fall. But the feared decrease doesn’t seem to have materialized, at least not for Oklahoma campuses.
Oklahoma State University saw a 1.5% bump in enrollment, while retention hit an all-time high despite the challenges of a fall semester with a “hybrid system” of both online and in-person classes. The Tulsa and Stillwater campuses have a combined enrollment of 24,405 students, officials said.
The president of OSU’s Student Government Association wasn’t surprised that most of her classmates wanted to be on campus.
“So much of the college experience really depends on making your own decisions and being on your own away from home,” said Jaden Kasitz, who is double majoring in mechanical engineering and mathematics. “It is worth it to be back on campus for the community that it brings.”
The University of Tulsa, meanwhile, enrolled about 350 fewer students this semester than a year ago, but that can’t necessarily be blamed on COVID. It could be a normal year-to-year fluctuation, officials said.
A more notable change, and more obviously a direct result of the epidemic, involves where students are living. In 2019, 56.2% of TU stayed on campus. This fall, only 47% do.
OSU has seen a similar trend. This time a year ago, campus housing was 97% full. As of last week, it was only 89% occupied, a clear sign that more students want to avoid living in residence halls, officials said.
Likewise, the University of Oklahoma has about 1,000 fewer students living on its Norman campus this semester compared to a year ago, officials said. Enrollment, however, held steady at roughly 26,000 students, suggesting that the change in living arrangements can be entirely associated with concerns over COVID.
Tulsa Community College doesn’t have on-campus housing, but it has seen a 6.6% drop in enrollment over last fall. As with TU, however, it’s not clear how much of the decrease is related to COVID. But ironically, some national experts had expected community colleges to benefit from students wanting to avoid larger campuses.
“We saw decreases in most student categories except those students who were returning to finish their degree,” said Eileen Lally Kenney, TCC’s assistant vice president of enrollment management. “These are students who had left TCC without completing their degree and the circumstances are now right for them to return and finish. We also saw an increase in the number of concurrent/dual credit students who are taking advantage of the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school.”
Oral Roberts University hasn’t released specific enrollment numbers for this semester. But during a recent chapel service, President Billy Wilson told the campus that enrollment had grown for the 12th year in a row, despite the epidemic.
By the numbers
School: Fall 2020 enrollment/change from fall 2019
Oklahoma State: 24,405/+1.5%
University of Oklahoma: 25,905/+0.28%
University of Tulsa: 2,940/-10.6%
Tulsa Community College: Specific number not provided/-6.6%
COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues.