COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The largest university in Ohio is facing an identity crisis: It’s getting smaller.
Ohio State University’s total student enrollment is the lowest it has been since 2016, according to the university’s enrollment reports from the past decade. In other metrics, too, the university is coming up short of recent years’ record-breaking highs, while total ethnic minority enrollment is the highest it’s ever been.
With this fall semester’s 15-day enrollment tallying 65,795 students across all levels and campuses, the midwestern school known for its larger-than-life state presence is down nearly 2,000 students from 2021. The lower enrollment follows a trend born out of the COVID-19 pandemic; Ohio State’s highest total enrollment was in 2019 with 68,262 students. Since then, numbers across education levels have continued to fall — but not quite as starkly as in 2022.
Undergraduate student enrollment is similarly at a low point, continuing a trend of decreasing numbers since it peaked in 2018 at 53,734 students. At 51,377 undergraduates across all campuses, Ohio State's largest student group is the smallest it's been since 2014.
Ohio State spokesperson Chris Booker said the decrease in overall enrollment is partially intentional. After undergraduate enrollment at the Columbus campus peaked last fall with 47,106 students, the university decided to lower the number of first-year students it accepted.
The lower first-year enrollment came even as Ohio State received a record number of applicants, Booker said, with 71,343 prospective first-year students applying for fall admission.
2022 Columbus campus enrollment levels, however, are lower than they were before 2021. At 60,540, total student enrollment at the Columbus campus is the lowest it's been since 2018.
Even as total enrollment declined, minority enrollment peaked this fall, continuing a years-long trend seemingly unaffected by the pandemic.
Most ethnic and racial minorities saw decreases or relative stability from 2021 to 2022. After reaching an all-time high last fall with 5,238 students, Black student enrollment decreased more than 2.5% to 5,104. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, historically the smallest minority group at Ohio State, experienced the most significant loss: At 28 students, it's down more than 17% from 34 students in 2021.
In fact, the only minority group that saw increases -- and a record high -- this fall is Asian students. With 5,468 Asian students, Ohio State's largest minority group accounts for nearly a third of all minority students.
"Overall, Ohio State’s strong minority enrollment numbers and our talented first-year class are the results of university-wide efforts to enroll well-prepared students, to focus on student success through targeted programming and to provide our students with a tremendous academic experience," Booker said in an email.
Ohio State is making gains in international student enrollment after the pandemic dealt a devastating blow. Although up 3.4% from 2021, at 5,813 students, international student enrollment is still significantly down from the 2018 record of 6,739.
Since 2020, Ohio State has had fewer than 6,000 international students each year -- a threshold the university had previously surmounted since as early as 2012.