Julian E.J. Sorapuru
Following Census Day, Sept. 4, the University released student enrollment numbers for the 2020-21 academic year. USF’s total student enrollment (undergraduate and graduate students combined) is currently at 10,071, which is 393 students short of its budgeted target. This mark also represents a 5.3% decrease from fall 2019 enrollment numbers.
In an email to the Foghorn, Michael Beseda, vice provost of strategic enrollment management, said the current level of enrollment is “a remarkable achievement given the tumultuous events of the past six months.”
Among the more prominent details of this attendance slump is that several hundred committed first-year and transfer students deferred their enrollment at USF to a future semester. This was reflected in the University’s enrollment numbers for first-year students: 1,144, its lowest mark since 2013.
Beseda said in an email that he attributed this low number to “extraordinarily high levels of summer melt (32%, more than double the average) — most coming after the mid-July announcement of our move to remote education.”
Despite their decision to defer enrollment, 265 undergraduate students who originally committed to USF this fall were offered the opportunity to enroll in one of three free, two-unit courses. These courses were “designed to connect these students to the USF experience and heighten the likelihood of their eventual enrollment,” said Beseda. The courses are taught by USF faculty members and address our new reality which has been shaped by COVID-19.
Another significant detail from the data is that 200 more continuing undergraduate students than usual — most of whom were freshmen during the fall 2019 semester — chose not to register for classes this semester. Beseda said, “The decisions of these 200 likely reflected unhappiness with remote education.”
Sam Crocker, a junior media studies major, was one of many who decided to defer enrollment. She said, “I feel that online classes aren’t a good learning environment for me, and aren’t worth the price of tuition.” Crocker, who is an out-of-state student, also added that the safety risks associated with cross-country travel, along with missing out on her chance to study abroad, heavily influenced her decision as well.
High deferral numbers impacted USF’s retention rate this year, causing it to decline from 85% to 76% among undergraduates.
USF also enrolled 33% less first-year international students than a year ago (130 this year compared to 193 last year). Beseda said this number “exceeds any reasonable expectation,” given the realities of visa restrictions, international political tensions, and the rampant spread of COVID-19 in the United States.
Although the University failed to meet many of its enrollment targets this semester — including seeing its Latino student population fall to 21%, its lowest mark in more than a decade — it was still able to meet or exceed enrollment expectations for its inaugural engineering cohort, Black students (who now make up 16 % of the University’s student body, a record-high), and new graduate school enrollments (1,729 students, which is higher than any previous year).
Beseda said the increase in graduate enrollment is likely a result of enhanced recruiting efforts, graduate programs’ decisions to move class online early on in the summer, and the pandemic-induced recession that has seen many affected return to school in order to reenter the workforce with more qualifications once the recession has passed.
Another numerical goal the University was able to exceed was its discount rate for first-year, domestic, non-athlete students, which sits at 49%, one point higher than targeted. The discount rate for new domestic transfer students also rose from 25% to 28%.
Regardless, USF’s general under-enrollment represents yet another significant financial blow to an already reeling University. “The Office of Planning and Budget is fairly confident that the first-quarter forecasted total net revenue shortfall will be between $40 million and $60 million,” said Jeff Hamrick, vice provost for institutional budget, planning, and analytics, in an email sent to faculty and staff on Sept. 9.
According to Hamrick, these financial shortfalls can be mainly attributed to reduced enrollment numbers, tuition discount overages, and, most prominently, to the bare minimum number of students living in university residence halls.
Ethan Tan contributed to the reporting of this story.