Declining enrollment coupled with concerns over student debt poses some challenges for universities in 2021. These headwinds existed before the pandemic created even more challenges for higher education
TMJ4's Charles Benson continues his conversation with the leaders of Marquette and UW Milwaukee.
For Freshmen Alan Angulo, Marquette University was always on his radar but so was the high cost of tuition.
Good grades and hard work helped earn him a full scholarship thru the Educational Opportunity Program that helps low-income and first-generation college students.
"The Education Opportunity Program does a fantastic job," said Angulo. "Of reaching out to students and being able to give money out, scholarship for people to reach this education that I said before is really hard to pay for."
Joshuah Ellis Jr knows he will graduate with debt after transferring from a private school and changing his major in psychology to pursue a degree in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Ellis says he "certainly hopes" pursuing a higher education degree will help him earn higher wages.
That is the hope. But the cost of college and the estimated $1.7 trillion nationwide student debt has contributed to fewer high school students wanting to get a higher degree.
UW-Milwaukee's Chancellor Mark Mone knows the number, enrollment dropped 5.4% last fall at his school.
Benson: What is the driving force behind the decline in enrollment?
Dr. Mone: I think the number one driver has to be demographics, like I oftentimes say, we're running out of teenagers
Marquette University President Mike Lovell sees it too. The freshmen class is the smallest since 1997.
One takeaway from the pandemic - online learning can also reduce student costs.
Benson: Is online learning a sustainable model?
Dr Lovell: I believe that the future for higher ed is going to be a hybrid of in-person and online digital. So, one of the things that we talked about at Marquette is how can we deliver our Marquette education to a new population.
10,000 UWM students were already doing some form of coursework online before coronavirus changed everything.
"It's not just being online," said Mone. "It's how effective you are online. And so, it's really the quality and the experience and I think we're both really proud of how our faculty have done against the odds."
Chancellor Mone says the future is about finding the right balance - and convincing students there is a greater benefit to getting a four-year degree.
"The financial gains, personally far exceed whatever the debt, whatever the costs are," said Dr. Lovell. "We know it continues to be a million-dollar differential."
No regrets so far Angulo, at Marquette, "I've gotten a really good hybrid education so far - both digital and in person."
For Ellis, getting a college degree at UWM is a high priority, "If I were to graduate, I would be the first out of my family to do so. It's been like a huge pride concept for me."
Chancellor Mone is facing his own challenge battling cancer. But he tells TMJ4 he is halfway through his treatment for non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and feels good and optimistic about 2021.
Watch TMJ4 News at 10 to hear from Chancellor Mone and President Lovell about how both schools plan to improve diversity on campus and help Milwaukee close the equity gap in the workplace.