JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -

After several consecutive years of record setting enrollment, the number of students at ETSU slipped slightly this year.

"We are flat,” said ETSU president Brian Noland. “Hold this at any other Board of Regent school and they are flat or down."

Noland is satisfied with this fall's enrollment of more than 15,400 total students. It's the third consecutive year the Johnson City university has topped the 15,000 mark.

Noland says the roughly 130-student drop is not a major alarm. "Part could be the affordability puzzle, and condition of the economy," said Noland.

While the overall numbers are down, the school set a record for the number of graduate students -- that number jumped seven percent.

Students say the advanced degree is needed more and more. "In this day and age and economy,” says student Laura Pepper-Weiler, “the higher skill level, the higher education makes you more marketable.”

Noland said Monday he's most concerned with keeping these students year after year. ETSU has an 80 percent retention rate for freshman.

"The real puzzle is how to make these sophomores return as juniors, and juniors return as seniors and graduate," said Noland.

The state of Tennessee is pushing it's universities to graduate more students. It's doing so by tying more funding to diplomas handed out instead of the number of students signed up for class.

"Our graduation rate is in the mid-40s,” said Noland. “We would like to see it meet the national average of 54 percent."

One other interesting note from this year's enrollment figures: ETSU saw a major jump in the number of students signed up for online classes, which is an area they have been pushing.