Decline in OU Enrollment, expected $17 million deficit

Due to COVID-19, a lower number of high school graduates and competition among schools, OU has seen a decline in enrollment. Finance and administration leaders expect there could be a $17 million deficit.

Photo courtesy of Oakland University

Due to COVID-19, a lower number of high school graduates and competition among schools, OU has seen a decline in enrollment. Finance and administration leaders expect there could be a $17 million deficit.

D'Juanna Lester, Senior Reporter

A hot topic that has been brought up — especially with Oakland University professors’ work stoppage last week — is the decline in OU enrollment. With the conflicts of last week, the student body and faculty are wondering where the university stands in terms of finance.

With the Sept. 20 deadline for enrolling, as well as adding and dropping classes, the university has not yet reported official enrollment data for fall of 2021.

“Enrollment across all institution types fell by 2.9% this past winter compared with last winter,” said Vice President of Enrollment Management Dawn Aubry. “This has been the most challenging year for universities across the country, and Michigan is no exception. Many regional universities are reporting reductions in new admissions and returning undergraduate students for the fall 2021 semester.” 

This year has been tough on students and their families, and there is a lot that needs to be done to help them, “particularly among first-generation, low-income and underrepresented minorities who are continuing to struggle the most during the pandemic,” according to Aubry.

Aubry also said that for community colleges, the numbers are even more alarming, dropping 11.3% in enrollment over the past year. 

As for how much money OU has lost over the past year Aubry said, “Based on data from our finance and administration leaders, we expect there could be a $17 million deficit. They base this estimate on COVID concerns, the lower number of high school graduates and competition among schools. We are hopeful and confident that Oakland University will continue to be the university of choice for transfer students, a traditional strong suit for enrollment.” 

So far, there have been no updates on how the two-day strike has impacted student retention, and Aubry said that an important part of keeping students from transferring or dropping out of OU is for staff and faculty to re-engage them. 

“Students want and need to feel connected and cared for,” Aubry said. “When OU faculty and staff uphold their responsibility to provide academic, social and emotional support, the consistent and intentional connection with students can support engagement and prevent dropouts.” 

Their plan “Grizzlies Together Again” outlines the expectation for the fall semester in order to make campus safe for all students, faculty and staff. That plan includes a daily health screening process, a mask mandate and vaccination requirements. 

OU has taken several steps toward recruiting new undergraduate students, including offering test optional admission, instituting scholarships award modifications, virtual orientation programs for the incoming class of 2021 in August and September and in-person campus tours in May. 

“OU remains among the lowest-cost universities for entering first-year students,” Aubry said. 

Paying for university has been a serious problem throughout the pandemic. The university has distributed $16.2 million in emergency funding that they received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for eligible students to help ease financial strains. There are also special automatic scholarships for transfer students, including the OU Frontline Workers Scholarship. 

“We will continue to offer extraordinary support services to all students,”Aubry said.