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Volunteering, LSU President F. King Alexander, right, waits to bring in the chair he just carried up three flights of stairs while bringing student belongings into Louise Garig Hall. An anticipated 2,500 new and returning students move to LSU on Move-In Day Wednesday August 16, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.. More than 550 volunteers from the faculty and staff, members of student organizations and friends of the university will team up with Residential Life staff for this exciting event. Volunteers will help students unload their cars, move into their residence halls or apartments and answer any questions regarding campus life that the residents may have. Among the volunteers was LSU President F. King Alexander, Board of Supervisors member Rolfe McCollister and around 150 student-athletes to assist those moving into on-campus housing.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

Back in August when he was helping freshmen move into their dorms, LSU President F. King Alexander predicted fall enrollment at the state’s flagship university would be down by about 2 percent.

He was right.

Now that the numbers are coming in, LSU counted 751 fewer students signing up for this year’s fall semester when compared to last year at this time. LSU Baton Rouge has 30,099 students, according to its headcount.

Results of the censuses came in mixed, but they indicate a change in what for years had been a downward trajectory.

Statewide, enrollments have slid each year of the past seven for a total of 6.6 percent reduction, according to the numbers compiled by the Board of Regents.

This academic year, which began in August, all three higher education systems reported an 1.3 percent increase in enrollment to a total of 150,955 students in the four-year universities.

Individual campuses had different results.

Southern University had about 2 percent more students on both its New Orleans and Baton Rouge campuses.

Some colleges had modest 1 percent declines, such as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Southern Louisiana University in Hammond and the University of New Orleans.

Louisiana’s public universities take a census of full-time and part-time students on the 14th day of classes, but the official numbers won’t come until the end of the semester. The reports are submitted to the Board of Regents, which oversees all of the state’s public higher education.

Southern University System President Ray L. Belton noted Tuesday that the main campus in Baton Rouge has seen declining enrollment for several years. The census shows 151 more students this fall bringing the total number of students on the Bluffs to 6,508.

“While the increase is not significant, it does give indication that we are on the right path,” Belton said. “What is encouraging about these numbers is the increase in the first-time freshmen at the university, such that we will continue to invest and to shape strategies that will prove to fulfill our enrollment aims.”

Southern University New Orleans Chancellor Lisa Mims-Devezin said SUNO was doing more community outreach and recruitment

The LSU System as a whole saw an increase. LSU has campuses in Alexandria, Shreveport, Eunice and the medical schools in New Orleans and Shreveport.

LSU officials wouldn’t comment Tuesday on the decline on the Baton Rouge campus.

But Alexander in August blamed the lack of stability caused by the state, year after year, reducing its contribution towards paying for the daily operations of the state’s 14 public universities and 15 community colleges. The budget cuts — $731 million or about 45 percent since 2009 — caused changes in the way the universities function and increased costs for students.

That annual decrease in the state’s contribution ended earlier this year when the Louisiana Legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards approved standstill funding, meaning no budget cuts for the first time in nine years.

The University of Louisiana System, which has nine four-year universities, grew about 1 percent from 90,439 students in the Fall of 2016 to 91,501 in the latest census. ULL, UNO and SLU all lost students, but the other schools increased their enrollments.

UL System President Jim Henderson agreed with Alexander that state government “unilaterally disarmed higher education and threatened our competitiveness” over the past decade.

“We had to spend our focus on how we were going to cover the funding cuts. That’s what changed,” Henderson said. Now, “we have been very purposeful in our recruiting.”

The budget respite also allowed Henderson to gather in a hotel conference room the nine UL college presidents to hash out a strategy that the often competing administrators could all get behind.

They came up with a goal of the UL System will produce 150,000 new graduates by 2025. That’s an increase of almost 20 percent more graduates annually. Only about a quarter of Louisiana’s adults have advanced degrees, which more than half the jobs require, Henderson said. “We need to step up our game.”

The universities will be expected to make financial aid easier to access; to form alliances with corporations and adjust curriculums to more closely align with the training those companies need in their workforce; and make other changes that will attract students and kept them in school until graduation, Henderson said.

“The aspirations within the framework are intentionally aggressive,” Henderson said.

Enrollments     Fall 2017 Fall 2016

Southern Baton Rouge         6,508            6,357

LSU Baton Rouge              30,099            30,850 

UL at Lafayette                 17,297            17,519

Southeastern                   14,308             14,499

University of New Orleans  7,969                8,037

Southern Univ System     12,696              12,661

LSU System                    46,758              45,971

UL System                     91,501              90,439

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.