First Impressions: Bloomsburg University (PA)
Bloomsburg University, a mid-sized public university, just over an hour from my trip to Penn State, provided a convenient opportunity for me to attend one of their fall open houses. I also collected pictures for a Pinterest page.
One of 14 schools in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, Bloomsburg is also the largest college in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This includes includes the Hazelton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro areas, once among the most important rail and manufacturing centers in the country. Today the dominant industry is health care.
The university has just over 8,300 full-time undergraduates. Surprising to me after taking my visit: the number is down about 900 from 2013. Not only has the total enrollment declined; the percentage of students from outside Pennsylvania has declined as well. Worse, Bloomsburg lost over a quarter of the freshmen who arrived in 2017. However, this school makes it easy for students to transfer into most majors from community college or another four-year school.
I always wonder about a school like Bloomsburg University, and why its enrollment has trended down. I talk to many parents, as college advisors are apt to do, and this is actually the type of school that many like and want. It has a reasonable sticker price for tuition and fees, room and board for residents ($21,400) and non-residents ($33.200). A resident can pay about the same as s/he would for tuition and fees alone at Penn State’s main campus; a non-resident could actually pay less It has nice facilities, including on-campus residence halls with several learning communities, and a modern fitness center. It’s really easy to have a car if you live on campus, or close by.
Near campus, the Town of Bloomsburg hosts one of the oldest and largest state fairs in the country. It also has a very well maintained downtown within walking distance of campus. Bloomsburg looked to be a family oriented community. But it was not like Penn State’s main campus where local business bonds with the college around a high profile football weekend or sports tournament. Bloomsburg would have felt much quieter if the fair was not in season. It’s very easy to get to I-80 from campus, then connect with I-99 South to drive to visit friends at Penn State, as long as you have access to a car. I had to ask myself: do Bloomsburg students take that drive to find more entertainment?
The university has signature academic programs in Digital Forensics, Education, Nursing, Medical Imagining and Physics. There are also some interesting specialty programs within the business school. A 3.5 GPA, combined with an 1150 SAT qualifies a student to apply for the Honors College. The career services, under the umbrella ‘Professional U’ are quite comprehensive as well. Bloomsburg has over 43,000 alumni registered in LinkedIn.com including fairly large communities in around Philadelphia (11,000) and New York (3,400) as well as Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania (132,000). There’s even 2,000 alumni in and around the Baltimore-Washington Corridor. That’s a very good base of support for a regional school.
But Bloomsburg also competes for employer attention with schools that have stronger brand recognition in the region, including Penn State, Bucknell and the University of Scranton within the majors that all of the schools have in common. A student who might consider Bloomsburg might also look at the other Pennsylvania State System schools within Central Pennsylvania (Lock Haven and Shippensburg) or closer to their home in the east or west.
I have been to half of the Pennsylvania State System schools as a college admissions advisor. All of these schools have signature offerings that were difficult to find at other schools, public or private. They also have a common set of liberal arts, business and education majors. Prospective students in those majors might want to shop for the best price or some other highlight, such as the housing or the community. And there are some other differences:
- Tuition and fees will vary from school to school
- Two schools that I visited (Millersville and Shippensburg) offer tuition reductions for New Jersey residents. East Stroudsburg and Slippery Rock do, too.
- Two (East Stroudsburg and Millersville) have test-optional admissions policies.
These schools have their own policies for honors opportunities and scholarships. If you are going to shop schools within this state system, it’s a good idea to look at academics and price, along with the campus.
An open house runs less than a day, so you get only brief impressions of a college. After leaving Bloomsburg I felt that the university had a lot to offer a student who was drawn to one of the signature programs, especially in education and the health fields, where the university has strong connections, or the Honors College. These programs, and the reasonable costs, were the best reasons to seriously consider the school over other public and private options.
Report Card: Bloomsburg University (PA)
- Four-Year/Six Year Graduation Rates: C/C
- Freshman Retention: C
- Costs: A
- Curriculum: A
- Community: B
- Comforts: B+
- Connections: B+ (Mid-Atlantic Region)/C (elsewhere)
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