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Education officials: West Virginia's student enrollment stabilizing after years of decline


CHARLESTON, West Virginia — Enrollment at West Virginia's public four-year colleges is showing signs of stabilizing, according to the Higher Education Policy Commission.

HEPC Chancellor Paul Hill said enrollment in the state's public colleges has declined in each of the past five years, but a smaller decline this fall could indicate efforts to boost enrollment are working.

Hill said the commission is working on increasing the state's college-going rate and the number of state residents pursuing and earning college degrees.

"We believe that our enrollment numbers statewide will remain steady and begin to rise with market demands," Hill said.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail (http://bit.ly/1N17AWg ) reports the head count for West Virginia's 12 public four-year colleges is now 64,829. That's a less than 1 percent drop from last year.

Vice chancellor for policy and planning Neal Holly said enrollment for students 24 and younger has been steady, dropping 1.2 percent in the past five years. He said the state's enrollment decline is higher among students 25 years and older, dropping 27 percent for that group since 2010.

Holly said that West Virginia expects to see a spike in high school graduates over the next five years. Whether that translates to more college-bound students remains to be seen. The number of West Virginia students who attend college is 55 percent, compared to the national average of nearly 63 percent.

According to the commission, the number of students attending public four-year schools in West Virginia has dropped 5.3 percent, or nearly 4,000 students, since 2010. The greatest declines have occurred among the state's smaller schools.

Bluefield State College, Potomac State College, Fairmont State University and West Liberty University had enrollment declines between 14.2 and 28 percent over the past five years, while most other colleges lost between 1 percent and 9 percent.

The only schools to increase enrollment since 2010 were the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg, West Virginia State University in Institute and West Virginia University Institute of Technology, which is relocating from Montgomery to Beckley in 2017.

Marshall University's fall enrollment increased 2.7 percent, or 257 students, compared to last year, while West Virginia State enrollment increased 11.4 percent, or more than 300 students. West Virginia University's fall enrollment in Morgantown fell 1 percent compared to last year.

Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.

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