The university waived late-registration fees that would ordinarily have been charged beginning Wednesday, $100 for students signing up on or after the first day. That step could help JSU avoid a third-straight year of declining enrollment.
As of Monday, early figures showed 8,147 students signed up for classes, 300 fewer than were listed on a similar report last year and about 1,000 less than last year's final fall enrollment of 9,161.
Rebecca Turner, JSU’s vice president for academic and student affairs, said she thinks the university will match last year's enrollment figure.
“Monday students were back, but they weren’t all here,” Turner said. “I sense that we are going to be pretty close to where it was last year.”
Turner said the decision to waive the late registration fee wasn't linked to the slow sign-up figures, but instead to a change in the school calendar. Tuition and fees were due in early August this year because classes started a week earlier than normal.
But, Turner said, the move could help enrollment, too.
“That’s not what led us to that,” said said. “Of course, we thought it would help.”
The university is also compiling lists of students who attended last year but haven’t registered to return this fall, including 100 who would be seniors. Turner said she’s asking department heads to reach out to those students.
“Sometimes life interferes with school and they just need someone to reach out to them,” Turner said. “We think that’s a good strategy.”
She added that approach worked in the case of at least one art student who administrators contacted by Facebook .
“The guy said, ‘I thought it was too late,’” Turner said. “It’s really making a difference.”
If JSU’s enrollment falls, it will be the third year in a row the number has dipped. After hitting an all-time high of 9,504 in 2010, the university’s enrollment slid to 9,490 in 2011 and again to 9,161 in 2012.
The enrollment high and the two-year decline were reflective of a trend among JSU’s peer institutions in the state. Administrators said universities have been hard hit by changes to federally funded financial aid programs such as Pell Grants.
Turner said JSU’s students were hit particularly hard by changes to federal aid programs. Roughly 80 percent of JSU students receive Pell Grants or some other form of aid, she said.
Enrollment at Troy University fell to 14,091 in 2012 from 15,498 in 2011 and from 16,117 in 2010, according to figures from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.
“Any changes that potentially reduce the amount of aid given to students impacts every university,” said Buddy Starling, dean of enrollment at Troy.
Starling said Troy’s enrollment was also impacted by increasing admission requirements. He said in recent years Troy increased the scores on the ACT high school students, as well as raising the required grade-point average for transfer students. The school also raised the required scores on GED exams.
“We began to focus on quality,” he said.
Starling added that he believes new student enrollment – which includes freshman and transfer students – will increase to 2,092 from 1,800 last year.
“We suspect that will have a positive impact on overall enrollment,” Starling said.
The University of South Alabama was able to keep enrollment from falling between 2010 and 2011, though it increased by just two students. USA did, however, experience a dip in 2012, when enrollment fell to 14,887 from 15,009.
Keith Ayers, a spokesman for USA, said the school will grow this year.
“It’s an absolute certainty that we’re going to be up,” Ayers said.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.