SUDBURY -- The number of first-year students attending Laurentian University is expected to drop significantly this fall with many who applied and were accepted now getting cold feet.

Ken Steele, a Canadian expert in higher education, student recruitment and strategic planning, said statistics from the Ontario Universities' Application Centre show first-year enrolment confirmations are down 30 per cent at LU.

That's significant because most of the students would have applied in January, before the university declared insolvency Feb. 1. The fact so many of them are choosing to go elsewhere shows at least a short-term impact on enrolment.

Ontario universities on average saw a 1.9 per cent increase in confirmations this year. LU's result has the school tied for the bottom with University of Guelph-Humber, which saw a 31 per cent drop.

"If a 30 per cent decline in confirmations isn’t made up somehow (perhaps by offering more scholarships to attract students who declined their offers, or through international applicants, or perhaps retention of upper year students) it should mean that the first year class is 30 per cent smaller," Steele said in an email exchange with CTV News.

"Most university undergraduate programs are four years in length, so that would mean at least a 7.5 per cent decline in total undergraduate enrolment. But because more institutions lose 20-40 per cent of students from each year to the next, first-year students can be 30-40 per cent of total undergraduate enrolment."

What that translates into is an approximate 12 per cent drop in overall enrolment, he said, with ominous implications long-term, as a smaller first-year class means less tuition fees than forecast for that cohort of students.

Steele suspects LU timed the insolvency declaration after the January application deadline, to minimize the impact on applications.

It "definitely reflects students voting with their feet against the uncertainties of a university in CCAA protection," he said. "Laurentian also cut a third of their programs, but they keep saying those were small programs, enrolling just 10 per cent of their students. So three times as many students are staying away, it would seem."

While the figures reflect first-year enrolment, Steele said that cuts to graduate programs will likely mean fewer grad students, as well.

"Some of Laurentian’s best-known research programs (environment, physics, Indigenous) are gone," he said. "So I wouldn’t be surprised if the impact on incoming graduate students is even worse, but I have no way of knowing that."

In response, Laurentian University said the drop was expected because of the school's financial problems

"With respect to projected enrolment, the decrease in students who are confirming their offers of admissions was anticipated as a result of the CCAA process," LU said in a statement.

"We are encouraged by some of our nationally recognized programs where student demand has remained consistent for many years. Additionally, we are seeing a higher-than-expected interest from international students as global mobility has increased and we are able to welcome international students on campus once again.

"A drop in confirmations was to be expected, but we have planned for this and are seeing encouraging signs that the recovery has begun. We would like to thank the students and families who have placed their trust in us and we are looking forward to welcoming you and kicking off another great academic year."