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The number of high school graduates enrolling in college in West Virginia has declined in recent years, dipping fromfrom 53.3% in 2012 to 45.9% in 2021. Enrollment ticked up during that span, but minimally.
The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated an existing trend of declining enrollment, officials say.
Read more about PolitiFact’s fact-checking process and rating system.
In recent months, West Virginia University’s administration has attracted national attention, and controversy, for making academic cuts driven by budget shortfalls.
One of key factor hurting the university’s finances has been declining enrollment. Separately, PolitiFact West Virginia analyzed the statement that during E. Gordon Gee's WVU presidency, "student enrollments have steadily decreased." We rated that Mostly True.
In a July 1 interview with The Daily Athenaeum, WVU’s student newspaper, the university’s then-assistant vice president of enrollment management, George Zimmerman, said declining college enrollment throughout West Virginia figured in WVU’s enrollment troubles.
"We have a very small population in the state, and it’s getting smaller in terms of high school graduates," Zimmerman said. "The percentage of students that are going to college has been declining for five years." (In September, Zimmerman began a new job at Penn State University.)
As for West Virginia having a "very small population," he has a point: The state’s population has declined since 2012, with a 4% population loss in just more than a decade.
But is Zimmerman correct that the rate of West Virginia high school students going to college is also declining?
He’s very close.
Data from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission shows that the collegegoing rate has been declining even longer than five years. It’s been falling since at least 2012.
It dipped from 53.3% in 2012 to 45.9% in 2021. Enrollment ticked up during that span, but minimally, by just fractions of a percentage point. The declines accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic, when universities struggled to safely offer in-person education.
The national college enrollment rate has fallen, too, but not as rapidly as West Virginia’s. Nationally, it has fallen from 66% in 2012 to 62% in 2021. West Virginia’s collegegoing rate has also been consistently lower than the national average during that span.
Zimmerman said, "The percentage of students that are going to college (in West Virginia) has been declining for five years."
It’s actually been declining for even longer than that. The rate has fallen from 53.3% in 2012 to 45.9% in 2021. A few years during that span saw increases, but they were minimal.
We rate the statement Mostly True.
The Daily Athenaeum, "WVU continues to experience declining enrollment despite increase in retention," July 1, 2022
West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, College-Going Rate, accessed Oct. 3, 2023
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, resident population of West Virginia, accessed Oct. 3, 2023
The New York Times, "Slashing its budget, West Virginia University asks, ‘What is essential?’" Aug. 18, 2023
Email interview with April Kaull, WVU executive director of communications, Sept. 19, 2023
Email interview with Frankie Tack, WVU Faculty Senate chair, Sept. 20, 2023
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