Population declines and concerns over how to pay for a college education contributed to a roughly 9 percent decline in applications to Penn State this year, university officials said.
There were nearly 54,000 applications for all Penn State campuses from potential first-year undergraduates applying to start this fall, according to figures provided to The Associated Press, down from the more than 59,000 applications received to start last fall.
The admissions office cited long-term demographic trends and economic concerns. Industry analysts also have found enrollment declines in many schools nationwide amid worries about the affordability of a college education.
“Affordability and cost are on the minds of families in determining where to go to college,” Anne Rohrbach, executive director for undergraduate admission, wrote in an email this week. “The impact is greatest in the Northeast where the number of high school seniors is declining.”
The number of applications still far exceed the number of students who get admitted. There were nearly 8,000 first-year undergraduate students enrolled in fall 2012 at the main University Park campus in State College, and more than 20,600 systemwide, according to figures from a university website.
The school has not heard that the Jerry Sandusky scandal is a factor in the choices of high school seniors, university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said Thursday. She cited focus groups of college-bound seniors over the past year in which participants said the scandal had no bearing on their choices.
Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, was arrested in November 2011. He was convicted last summer of dozens of criminal counts of child sex abuse and sentenced to at least 30 years in prison.
“Most students and their parents just want to make sure that they receive a quality education and that in the end, they will be able to obtain a good job,” Power wrote in a separate email. “I think Penn State is well known for its ability to deliver these two things, as well as its vast network of alumni that can assist new graduates in a job search.”
Applications from Pennsylvania students were down about 6 percent to about 23,500. Applications from out-of-state students were down more than 11 percent to more than 30,000.
There were fewer high school graduates in Pennsylvania and a leveling of the rate of college-bound students, Rohrbach said.
Overall undergraduate applications rose slightly, by about 2 percent, the previous year, between 2011 and 2012.
Penn State's total undergraduate enrollment, not counting online students, was more than 75,000 in 2012, down slightly from more than 76,000 the previous year.
Worries about how to pay for a school appear to be a nationwide concern. A survey of 300 colleges released by Moody's Investors Service in January found that enrollment fell in about half of colleges. That survey also found that about one-third of colleges were expecting tuition revenue this year either to decline or fail to keep pace with inflation. Virtually all colleges were seeing tuition revenue rise a few years ago.
Tuition at Penn State can depend on class standing, major and campus. Main campus tuition for in-state freshmen and sophomores this year was $15,562 for the academic year. Tuition nearly doubled to $27,864 for the year for out-of-state students.
Powers said there was no way to know everything that affects a high school senior's decision.
“We all face a declining demographic combined with a really tight economy and concerns about costs, as well as a lot of questions being asked nationally about the value of a degree and significant declines in state funding,” she said. “For higher education in general, these are big challenges that are being discussed on a regular basis.”
As of this week, about 54 percent of students admitted for fall 2012 to the University Park campus were from Pennsylvania, up slightly from 53 percent last year.
Penn State has also named Johns Hopkins engineering school dean Nicholas Jones as its new executive vice president and provost, or chief academic officer. University trustees are expected to formally approve his hiring next week.