Editorial: On-campus head count is figure that matters most

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Eastern is scheduled to release its 10th day enrollment numbers for the Fall 2019 semester Friday, numbers which Eastern’s Provost Jay Gatrell said last week were “very positive” and also added that it is “going to be a great fall in terms of head count.”  

We at The Daily Eastern News, as part of the Eastern community, are pleased and excited to hear Gatrell bring that news forward, and we hope to once again see total enrollment up for the Fall semester. 

But we would also call on Eastern, our readers and members of the Charleston community to be vigilant of the specifics of enrollment numbers.  

For the Fall 2018 semester, Eastern reported a total enrollment of 7,526 students, an increase of 7.06 percent from the year before. However, the number of students actually on Eastern’s campus, present in Charleston taking classes, was just 5,082, a decrease of 7.41 percent from 2017. 

The other 2,444 students counted toward total enrollment were dual-credit, online or other students that were not actually present on campus.  

The 5,082 students on campus is the number we feel truly mattered and is the figure that should have driven the narrative when Eastern’s administration discussed enrollment with the Charleston and Eastern communities. 

Because, while it is great that total enrollment was up to 7,526 students, thanks to an increase in off-campus students from 1,540 in 2017 to 2,444 in 2018, that figure truly bears little impact on Charleston compared to the on-campus enrollment.  

This is because when Eastern reports an enrollment increase, local businesses, landlords and other community members hear this and make decisions based on an increase in enrollment. But, the 2,444 off-campus students that contributed to the increase in total enrollment are not in Charleston. They are not renting homes and apartments, and they are not spending money at local businesses.  

This is why when Eastern reveals its enrollment numbers, it is vitally important for them to be completely transparent about the number of students actually on campus because that is the number that has the greatest impact on the Charleston community.  

The specifics of the enrollment numbers truly matter. 

When total enrollment is up, it is vital for the community to know what that means exactly, where enrollment is up and where it is down. By far and away the most important enrollment number is the number of students present in Charleston. That number being down in 2018 is information that was and is pivotal to Charleston.  

That is why we are calling on the administration to be completely up front with that figure this semester when speaking publicly about enrollment. 

It is also why we are signalling for everyone to be aware of on-campus head count in 2019 because whether it is higher or lower than it was in 2018, it is the enrollment figure that truly matters.