UMass forecasts increase in enrollment

Hampshire County

(SHNS) – University of Massachusetts officials are forecasting enrollment increases in the next five fiscal years, but as higher education continues to face the challenges of COVID-19 and pre-pandemic demographic shifts, UMass President Marty Meehan cautioned Monday that those numbers aren’t a sure thing.

UMass trustees discussed their five-year financial forecast at a virtual meeting of their Administration and Finance Committee.

The forecast projects the university system’s enrollment growing from 64,768 full-time equivalent students in fiscal 2022 to 69,129 in fiscal 2027. After enrollment dropped this year from 66,070 in fiscal 2021, the forecast would have it increase to 65,611 in fiscal 2023 and rebound back to 66,055 in fiscal 2024.

“While the forecasts indicate systemwide enrollment increasing over the next five years, we all know that that is not guaranteed, and in all honesty may not even be realistic,” Meehan said. “In fact, if there’s one thing that we’ve learned over the past couple of years, nothing is guaranteed, so we need more clarity regarding campus strategies for achieving the projected growth.”

Meehan said there also needs to be “alternative budget strategies that can be executed if campuses fall short of their enrollment forecast.”

Because tuition makes up a significant portion of university budgets, enrollment figures are a key factor in budgeting. In fiscal 2022, tuition and fees are projected to generate 24 percent of the UMass system’s revenue, or $907 million.

The bulk of the university’s students — 73 percent, or 42,278, this year — are undergraduates, with 8,878 graduate students, 774 in continuing education, 7,511 online only, and 326 in law school. Massachusetts residents make up 75 percent of the overall enrollment, with out-of-state students accounting for 18 percent and international students 7 percent.

During the pandemic, a period marked by travel restrictions and global uncertainty, international enrollment fell by 6.3 percent from fiscal 2021 to 2022, which LeeAnn Pasquini of the UMass budget office characterized as a “sizeable dip.” The forecast calls for an average annual growth rate of 2.9 percent in international enrollment for fiscal 2023 to 2027, with a 1 percent rate for in-state students and 2.1 percent for out-of-state.

Pasquini said it will “take some time to fully grow back that international enrollment,” and that the decline’s impact varied by campus. International enrollment dropped by more than 15 percent at each the Boston and Dartmouth campuses and by 2.8 percent at the flagship campus in Amherst, and ticked up 0.6 percent in Lowell.

Each campus’ out-of-state enrollment grew from last fiscal year to this one, according to figures presented to the committee.

Meehan said that before the pandemic hit, UMass officials knew they would be facing “powerful enrollment headwinds driven by a decline in the number of high school graduates.”

“We know that the pandemic has accelerated the decline, as undergraduate enrollment across the nation has dropped at historic rates,” he said. “Even as the University of Massachusetts remains relatively well-positioned due to its national reputation, we will not be immune to these trends, so we will need to be focused like never before on generating realistic enrollment projections and adapting to those. There is a very clear underlying message in the forecast — that is, we must act with urgency and discipline during these uncertain times.”

UMass trustees plan to hold a full board meeting on Wednesday, and university finance officials said they expect next year’s tuition and fees to be adopted at an April meeting.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Only on WWLP.com | Digital First

More Digital First

Trending Stories

Coronavirus News

More Coronavirus