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The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, “the crown jewel,” is down 31 percent over 12 years

Truly a beautiful campus

… part of a nationwide decline

Few people realized that the most devastating recession in American history, the Great Recession of 2008, would cause as much damage to America as it has.

However, one area is now just coming to fruition. What this meant was that young people at that time were financially devastated and could not find jobs that would even pay for their student loans. So, many quit following the dream that a higher education degree was necessary to achieve the American Dream.

Now, the children who were born after that time are now 18, and the vision for American education is gloomy and appears to be that way into the 2030s.

In an earlier piece, I pointed out the problems that Penn State is facing with the thought of having to close its branch campuses as it is mired in deep financial debt.

Drop at UPJ

The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown is a beautiful, bucolic campus located outside of the city in Richland Township. It started in the city in 1927 as the “Johnstown Junior College of the University of Pittsburgh.” It was located in the old Johnstown Senior High School in Kernville and consisted of just wo years, after which the students would transfer to the University of Pittsburgh.

In the first year, only 150 students were enrolled and the tuition was just $10 a credit, and the cost of a year of school was $300.

World War II changed the course

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill that provided aid for people under the GI Bill of Rights. The college moved to a former school in Moxham.

Then, a wonderful grant from the Wilmore Coal Company gave Pitt-Johnstown the current campus that it has. The campus opened in the fall of 1967, and by 1973, it was a four-year educational institution.

21st Century

Today, UPJ is the largest of the branches of the University of Pittsburgh with 2,038 students (2022) on its 655-acre campus. It is ranked 14 among the regional colleges in the north by US News. The university as a whole had 19,928 students in 2022, and ten percent of those were at UPJ.

However, like schools across the country, the numbers started to drop in 2010 and continued to do so. According to its extensive review of Pitt and Penn State campuses in 2023, the Tribune-Review of Greensburg noted that UPJ has dropped 31 percent in enrollment in 12 years,

From 2010 to fall 2022, enrollment across Pitt’s four branch campuses fell an average of 36%.

At 2,041 students, Pitt-­Johnstown, the university’s oldest and largest branch campus that was founded in 1927, is 31% smaller than it was a decade and a half ago.

Bill Schackner, “Pitt, Penn State branch campuses bleeding enrollment;

decline expected to continue,” Tribune-Review, June 25, 2023

The study noted that Pitt-Greensburg had declined 27 percent since 2010 to 1,325 students.

Shapiro has called for changes

In his first year governor, Josh Shapiro sounded the alarm for schools throughout the state,

“What we are doing right now is not working,” he said.

“Colleges are competing with one another for a limited dollar: They’re duplicating degree programs, they’re driving up the cost and they’re actually reducing access, particularly for so many in our minority communities,” Shapiro said in his first state budget address.

“As enrollment declines and questions about the value of a college degree persist, it’s on all of us to once and for all have an honest dialogue about higher education in Pennsylvania.”

Bill Schackner, Tribune-Review, June 25, 2023

Likely to continue

Pitt and Penn State are recruiting as are others in Pennsylvania, but the challenge is tremendous in this environment,

Among its efforts to boost enrollment, Pitt has said representatives are “traveling across the commonwealth — 75% of which is rural — to talk to prospective first-generation students about the benefits of a college education,” the statement read.

Nationwide, regional public campuses and smaller, less endowed private colleges remain most vulnerable in the slumping student market, said Tom Harnisch, vice president for government relations with the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

He and others say, unlike in the past, when a weak economy sent more students to campus, the pandemic-driven economic slump did not. Even now, some who are able to command higher wages in a worker shortage have stayed away.

“So many students went to college because that’s what you did after high school. But that’s not true now,” said Julie Wollman, a professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and a former president of Edinboro University (now a Penn West University campus.)

“People are saying, ‘I really don’t need to go to college. I can make just as much money going into the job market,’ ” Wollman added.

Harnisch said Pennsylvania’s demographics may mean its colleges wait longer than other states for a rebound.

“Based on the numbers I’ve seen in Pennsylvania, the enrollment decline is going to continue throughout this decade and into the next,” he said.

Bill Schackner, Tribune-Review, June 25, 2023

UPJ will survive, but the numbers may continue to fall or may stabilize. Only time will tell.

Other smaller schools will not affiliation may not be as fortunate.

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