Louisiana's public colleges and universities saw their first-year enrollments decline by 11 percent and their overall enrollments dip by 7 percent this fall, but those overall averages mask stunning drops at some of the institutions most affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Preliminary headcount enrollments  released by the Louisiana Board of Regents showed the number of freshmen enrolled at the University of New Orleans and Southern University of New Orleans down by 50 and 51 percent, respectively, from fall 2005 and drops of 68 and 60 percent respectively at Nunez Community College and SOWELA Technical Community College. Overall enrollments at the two public universities were down by between 32 and 34 percent, and at Nunez by 53 percent. But the overall student body at SOWELA actually grew over 2005, by about 10 percent.
Those declines were offset, or at least diminished, statewide by major freshman enrollment increases at Southeastern Louisiana University (up 13 percent) and South Louisiana Community College (23 percent), among other institutions.
Campus officials attributed the drop not just to the obvious -- the lingering impact of the hurricanes that battered the state last fall -- but also to previously planned admissions requirements for four-year public institutions that took effect this fall, which were expected to shift some students from four-year to two-year institutions in the state.
"Obviously, Louisiana, particularly the New Orleans area, has fewer people than it did before the storms,” Joseph Savoie, the commissioner of higher education, said in a statement. “Our pool of students has shrunk. Additionally, the four-year admission requirements for entering students are having the planned effect, both on the number of entering freshmen enrolled on our four-year campuses and the enrollment at our two-year campuses. Finally, we’re experiencing a significant spike in job opportunities post-Katrina/Rita especially in the construction and gas-and-oil sectors and many potential college students are taking advantage of the opportunity."
With the New Orleans campuses omitted from the totals, the enrollment of first-time freshmen was down 5 percent, the regents said.