Chancellor: ‘Dramatic’ decline in UPR enrollment requires robust response
By The Star Staff
University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Campus (UPRRP) Chancellor Luis Ferrao Delgado recently alerted a committee in the island House of Representatives about a significant decline in student enrollment.
Ferrao Delgado told the House Education Committee that the student body of the public university system is 60% smaller today than it was 40 years ago.
“The number of students at UPRRP is declining dramatically, coinciding with an equally dramatic decline at the school system level,” Ferrao Delgado said. “The public education system had 700,000 students in the entire system by 1980, and today the system barely reaches 260,000 students. We are talking about the fact that about 60% of the school student population has left.”
That is, the fewer students there are at the school level, the fewer students reach the university level, which has resulted in the UPRRP having 13,000 students, when at its peak it had 22,000, the chancellor added.
“If this trend continues, in less than six years we will have fewer than 10,000 students,” he said.
Faced with this situation, the UPR’s flagship campus has had to reinvent itself to attract new students, adults with jobs and less time for studies than the typical high school graduate.
“Academic programs have had to refocus on the adult population, which is another type of student with different characteristics,” Ferrao Delgado said. “They do not have the time of the 18-year-old student, they prefer online classes, night classes, and other types of specialty. I would say that this is the biggest problem we face.”
Given the situation, Ferrao Delgado recommended to the Legislative Assembly that they take measures to address the drop in student enrollment.
“This problem is going to require the whole of society, and the three branches of government, in order to address it,” he said. “It is a problem that will continue to affect us in the long term if action is not taken.”
With 11 campuses, the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) is the oldest higher education institution and largest public university system on the island. It offers 694 degree programs, and houses 79 research centers.
Despite being a key channel for social mobility on the island, UPR has faced a 40% budget cut since 2017. At the same time, tuition per credit hour has more than doubled since fiscal year 2018, from $57 per credit hour to $124 per credit hour in 2020, and it will increase to $157 by 2023. This means that the students and their families must now find the money to pay for steeply increased university tuition at the same time they are facing an economic crisis brought on by the pandemic. Students and professors say that the severe budget cuts, tuition increases and subsequent enrollment decline threaten the survival of the university and hinder the economic growth of the island.
The Financial Oversight and Management Board has demanded that the university system slash costs by hundreds of millions of dollars. The 2019-2024 oversight board-certified fiscal plan for UPR establishes a series of large reductions in the $879 million of government appropriations historically provided to the university.