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Summer School Brochure
by Silence Dogood

On January 14, 2015, a flashy four-page color brochure appeared in faculty/staff campus mailboxes.

Last December, President Potter sent an email to all faculty and staff entitled “Managing our budget.” In the email, President Potter listed: “a number of new initiatives to increase enrollment, including: Taking steps to revitalize our summer school enrollment.”

One can only assume that this brochure was one of the steps to ‘revitalize our summer school enrollment.’

In the brochure, it states:

The report shows a graph of “Summer Session Credits by School/College.”

The graph clearly shows that the decline in summer session credits it not consistent across the schools/colleges. The declines in the Herberger Business School and the College of Science and Engineering is much smaller than the decline in the School of Education where the decline from FY 2012 to FY 2014 looks to be more than 50%.

The brochure also shows a plot of “Credits by Term and Fiscal Year.”

In looking at the graph, it certainly looks like the decline in credits for Summer is much smaller than the decline in credits for Fall and Spring. In fact, comparing Summer FY 2013 with Summer FY 2014, it looks like a very small decline in credits. However, one might ask what was the intended purpose of this graph in the first place? Was it to show the relative declines for Fall, Spring, and Summer? Was it to show the enrollment decline in summer is not too bad?

A further problem with this graph is that most people have no idea what is meant by a fiscal year. For SCSU, the fiscal year begins with summer term, followed by fall term and then spring term making up the fiscal year. Hence, Summer 2013, Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 are part of FY 2014. As a result, since the plot only shows data up through FY 2014, the plot above omits the data for Summer 2014 and Fall 2014, which are both in FY 2015. Enrollment for Spring 2015 is not final but if you want to know about summer enrollments, perhaps the enrollment from the most recent summer session might be important to know.

The following figure shows the summer FYE enrollment, which includes the most recent summer session.

If you wanted to show the summer school enrollments, this plot is more descriptive than that shown in the 2014 Summer Session Annual Report. Clearly, since Summer’10, the enrollment has been what can only be described as a ‘freefall.’ From Summer’10 through Summer’14, the drop of 409 FYE represents a decline of 30.9%. Thus in a four-year period, summer enrollments dropped by nearly 1/3rd!

Clearly, what data is presented and how it is presented can change your perception of an issue. The graph in the brochure clearly shows enrollment in the summer is declining. However, as presented in the figure above, it is clear that the decline in summer enrollment is staggeringly not small! Looking at the plot in the 2014 Summer Session Annual Report you might not come to that same conclusion. Again, one might ask exactly what is the purpose of this document?

It is also interesting to look at the summer enrollments at the other MnSCU universities. Frequently, it is heard that ‘everybody is declining’ as if that is enough to justify the enrollment decline at SCSU. The following Figure shows the FYE enrollments at all of the MnSCU universities from Summer’06 through Summer’14.

From the Figure, it is clear that the three MnSCU universities with the largest summer enrollments (SCSU, Metro, and Mankato) all experienced declines in enrollment for Summer’14. The four universities with the smallest summer enrollments (Winona, Moorhead, Bemidji, and Southwest) all experienced increases in enrollment for Summer’14. Are the smaller universities are doing something differently than the large universities, which accounts for the differences in summer enrollment?

The figure also shows that SCSU was once the leader in summer enrollments by a wide margin and has now dropped to third! If the trends are extended, it won’t be too long before SCSU slips to fourth place behind Winona! Since Summer’10, it is clear that Winona has been doing something right to grow so much!

The drop in summer enrollment at SCSU didn’t happen in one year, it took four years to drop 30.9%. However, it shouldn’t have taken four years to figure out that something was going wrong with Summer School enrollment.

After dropping 9.0% in Summer’11, alarm bells should have been going off in the administration building. For Summer’11, SCSU was the only MnSCU university with a decline in summer enrollment!

For Summer’12, SCSU’s decline increased to 11.4%. However, for Summer’12 SCSU was not alone in declining. Moorhead led the way with a one-year decline of 17.9%! Bemidji lost 7.6%, Southwest lost 6.8%, Mankato and Winona both lost 3.3%. However, Metro was nearly flat losing only 0.2%.

Unfortunately, the SCSU administration was either unaware of the declines in the summer enrollment for 2011 and 2012 or didn’t know what to do because enrollment again dropped 5.4% for Summer’13. Although a decline, the rate of decline was less than half of the previous year. This in itself might have been considered a small ‘victory.’ Perhaps the administration thought the problem with declining enrollment was taking care of itself. Unfortunately, for Summer’14 the enrollment decline nearly doubled in increasing to 9.4%.

Now, after a four-year period in which enrollment has dropped 30.9%, the President announces that he’s “taking steps to revitalize our summer school enrollment.” So, the ‘flashy’ brochure appears.

A faculty member responded to the SCSU Discussion List:

In my mailbox this morning appeared a flashy, full-color, 4-page brochure entitled “2014 Summer Sessions: 2014 Annual Report.”

Considering the budget crisis we are now under, I am wondering if there might have been a more cost-effective way of conveying this information.”

A second faculty member continued:

“I thought the same thing as I passed out one to each faculty member in my department and then watched most of the sheets get dropped in the trash. An email to everyone could have conveyed the same info.”

Does anyone really believe that this ‘flashy’ brochure will be the salvation of SCSU’s summer school program? Perhaps a wiser investment would have been in some targeted marketing. It appears unlikely, quoting Winston Churchill, that the brochure is a signal of “the end of the beginning” of SCSU’s summer enrollment woes. At best, it might be hoped to signal a slowing of the rate of decline. Only time will tell.

Fall Semester Enrollments in MnSCU
by Silence Dogood

The following figure shows the enrollments at the seven MnSCU universities for Fall 2013 and Fall 2014:

Of the seven MnSCU universities, only Southwest’s enrollment was larger in Fall 2014 than the previous fall and it was larger by a whopping 2 FYE. Although six of the seven universities lost enrollment, for most of the universities, the changes between Fall 2013 and Fall 2014 are small so the values overlap.

An easier way to see the relative changes is to calculate the percent change in enrollment from Fall 2013 to Fall 2014 as shown in the following figure:

As shown in the figure, the leader in the percentage decline is Moorhead followed closely by SCSU. However, since Moorhead cut 10% of its faculty and staff for Fall 2014 because of declining enrollments, it might be understandable to see a decline in enrollment simply because of offering fewer sections of classes as a result of having fewer teaching faculty.

On a percentage basis the decline at Moorhead is larger than that at SCSU. However, since SCSU is more than twice as large as Moorhead, the total decline at SCSU (272) is nearly double that of Moorhead (152) as shown in the following figure.

For all of the MnSCU universities combined, the Fall decline totals 628 FYE. As a result of the decline of 272 FYE at SCSU, SCSU is responsible for 43.3% of the decline even though in FY14 it generated only 22.6% of the Fall FYE enrollment. In other words, the other five universities in MnSCU lost 356 FYE in enrollment and SCSU lost 272 FYE on its own. The data also shows that SCSU lost nearly four times the enrollment as was lost by rival Minnesota State University—Mankato.

For Fall Semester, Southwest was the only university that was up, three were down 0.9% (Bemidji), 1.0% (Mankato) and 1.2% (Winona). Metro was down 2.6% followed by SCSU at 4.5% and Moorhead at 5.3%. Too many more Fall semesters like this one and the lost enrollment at SCSU might start getting significant.

MnSCU Awards For Outstanding Financial Management Leadership
by Silence Dogood

On January 5th, MnSCU announced a series of awards “Recognizing Outstanding Financial Management Leadership.”

http://www.mnscu.edu/media/newsreleases/2015/010515.html

There are two types of awards. The “Chancellor’s Award,” which is “presented to individuals or teams whose efforts support the MnSCU Strategic Framework and result in systemwide improvements in financial management, services, or processes. Award criteria focused on innovation, collaboration, and new work that is above and beyond regular duties.”

For 2014, there were two Chancellor’s Awards:

Rick Straka, Vice President for Finance and Administration
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Bill Maki, Vice President for Finance and Administration
Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College

The second award is an “Outstanding Service Award,” which is “presented to individuals or teams who provide outstanding service at the campus level. Award criteria focused on those who have made significant systemwide contributions that warrant recognition.”

For 2014, there were ten Outstanding Service Awards:

Budget Committee
Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College

Finance Staff
Dakota Community & Technical College

Finance Staff
Inver Hills Community College

Lori Voss, CFO and Vice President of Administration
Minnesota West Community & Technical College

Helen Wenner, Purchasing Card Coordinator
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Debra Norman, Accounting Officer
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Steve Smith, Associate Vice President for Budget and Business Services
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Business Office Team
Saint Paul College

Deb Kerkaert, Vice President for Finance and Administration
Southwest Minnesota State University

Business Office and Financial Aid Teams
St. Cloud Technical & Community College

While there really isn’t an official competition between SCSU and Mankato, it is striking to recognize that one of the two Chancellor’s Awards went to someone at Mankato and three of the ten Outstanding Service Awards went to individuals at Mankato. SCSU was noticeably absent.

Perhaps a 0.07 Composite Financial index for FY14 and a $9,542,000 budget shortfall for FY15 had something to do with that.

Are Annual Audit Reports Important?
by Silence Dogood

If all of the university employees at SCSU were asked to raise their hand if they had ever read an SCSU annual financial report, how many hands would be raised? My guess is that there probably wouldn’t be a lot of hands being raised. Most annual reports of audit findings are just not that exciting! However, there is a lot of information, especially when looking at trends, which is at least interesting even if not exciting.

The following figure shows the Total Net Position, which, according to the Annual Report, “represents the residual interest in the University’s assets after liabilities are deducted.” In other words, it represents the ‘value’ of the university’s operation. The values given in the figure come from SCSU’s Annual Reports.

In looking at the graph, you would have to say that there has been a steady growth in the Total Net Position of $77.6 million from FY2008 through FY2013, which amounts to a growth of 55.9%. Clearly, these results are impressive! In FY2014, there was a loss of $7.5 million in the Total Net Position, which represents a decline of 3.5%. If this was a one-year ‘blip’ in the system, it might not be a big deal. However, if it was the beginning of a trend, it might be a bit more ominous.

When you try to understand these kinds of numbers, it is often helpful to look at the individual components, which make up a university’s budget. One of the revenue components is the state appropriation. The following figure shows the state appropriation from FY2008 through FY2014. The values given in the Figure come from SCSU’s Annual Reports.

The figure shows that, although decreasing from its high in FY2009 to FY2012, funding actually increased in FY2013 and again in FY2014. However, it is important to note that the increase in state appropriations for FY14 is the result of the state appropriation making up the difference because tuition was being held constant. Essentially, the increase in the state appropriation was intended to make up for the money that was ‘lost’ as a result of tuition being held constant.

Over the past several years, state appropriations have not kept up with tuition increases or inflation and as a result have become an increasingly smaller component of a university’s funding making tuition and fees a larger percentage of its revenue stream.

The largest single source of revenue for SCSU is Tuition and Fees. The following figure shows the Tuition and Fees from FY09 through FY14. The values given in the figure come from SCSU’s Annual Reports.

The figure shows steady growth from FY2009 to its peak in FY2011 followed by steady decline through FY2014. Some of the decline in tuition and fees was offset by an increase in the state appropriation for FY14. However, tuition and fees normally track very closely to enrollments. If enrollment is growing, tuition and fee revenue increases. If enrollment is decreasing, tuition and fees decrease concomitantly.

The following figure shows the FYE enrollment (the enrollment upon which state allocations are based) from FY2009 through FY2014. The values given in the figure come from the website of SCSU’s Office of Strategy, Planning and Effectiveness.

From its peak in FY2010, enrollment has dropped 2,761 FYE, which is a decrease of 18.3%. If each FYE represents an average of $11,500 in tuition, fees and state allocation, this decrease in enrollment converts into a loss of approximately $31,800,000.

Most of this data is not all that important on a day-to-day basis. However, it is most useful in recognizing trends. There are also other measures of a university’s financial health. One such measure is the Composite Financial Index (CFI). For SCSU, the CFI clearly shows that SCSU is not in a good place financially. For FY14, SCSU’s CFI is 0.07. Of the MnSCU universities, between FY 2008 and FY 2014, only Southwest Minnesota State University has had a CFI less than 1.00. In FY 2009, Southwest had the lowest CFI of 0.37 until SCSU took the title of the lowest CFI in MnSCU with its 0.07 in FY14. Some have even commented that SCSU’s CFI is “in the toilet.” However, no matter how SCSU’s CFI is described the trend is certainly headed in the wrong direction.

Another important measure of a university’s financial health is the amount of “Unrestricted Cash” it has on hand. The “Unrestricted Cash” is captured in the CFI but it may be masked by other measures, which make up the CFI. The following figure shows the amount of “Unrestricted Cash” as listed in SCSU’s Annual Reports from FY2008 through FY2014.

From FY2008 through FY2012, the “Unrestricted Cash” grew by $25,000,000, which represents a growth of nearly 350%! From FY2012 through FY2014, the “Unrestricted Cash” dropped by $16,900,000, which is a decrease of 52.3%!

The “Unrestricted Cash” is a significant way of looking at the health of a university. If a university takes in more money than it spends, it can usually increase the amount of “Unrestricted Cash” it has. On the other hand, if a university is spending more money than it is taking in, it has to take money out of its “Unrestricted Cash” or cut its budget. It is also possible for a university’s Unrestricted Cash to decrease because of “strategic investments.”

From FY2013 to FY2014, the SCSU’s Total Net Position decreased by $7,464,000. Since the “Unrestricted Cash” dropped by $13,000,000, clearly SCSU had to drawn down its “Unrestricted Cash” by $5,535,000 to cover its operating deficit in FY2014. Additionally, an annual $13,000,000 decrease in “Unrestricted Cash” is something that cannot be sustained over the long-term!

Given a CFI in FY2014 of 0.07 (by far the lowest value ever listed by MnSCU for a university), enrollment declines of 6.9%, 6.4%, and 5.1% from FY2012 through FY2014, a projected enrollment decline of 5% or more for FY2015, and a projected budget deficit of $9,542,000 for FY2015, it is clear that SCSU is in deep financial trouble.

Unlike the H.M.S. Titanic, MnSCU is not likely to allow SCSU to ‘sink.’ The question is how far down does SCSU have to go before the legislature or the administration recognize that there is a problem and step in?

This St. Cloud Times article highlights a flaw in President Potter’s plan to revitalize St. Cloud State’s enrollment and budget crises. Here’s what tipped things off:

Potter said innovative thinking will help develop new programs and revitalize existing programs.

There’s nothing wrong with developing new programs or revitalizing existing programs. It’s just that creating new programs takes time. With a $9,542,000 deficit and with enrollment down more than 20% since its peak in FY2010, there’s a need for a quick turnaround.

Starting a new program literally takes years. It’s impossible to start a new program without figuring out if there’s a demand for the program. If there isn’t a demand, obviously, then it’s foolish to take another step. If there is a demand, then the next step is to hire a person to lead the program. That requires a search, which takes time. After that, the person hired to lead this new program needs to develop the course schedule, then develop the curriculum for each of those courses.

Developing the curriculum takes quite a bit of time because you’re developing curriculum for everything from freshman-level classes through graduation classes. That doesn’t include the classes that students need for their major that are taught in other departments.

In other words, President Potter’s so-called solution to this deficit crisis would take 3-5 years at minimum. That isn’t a solution. That’s smooth-sounding spin that doesn’t fix the problem. There’s a good chance President Potter’s solution would pass the buck to his successor.

Additional time is required to market the program and build a solid student base. In the end, there is no guarantee that after “you build it, they will come” to SCSU. At that point, it’s still a hit-or-miss proposition. A former supporter of the aviation program noted that the aviation program curriculum is still on the books at SCSU. It could be restarted relatively quickly. Better yet, with the major airline pilot shortage and the immediate demand for drone pilots, it’s logical that SCSU consider restarting the aviation program. It would quickly boost SCSU’s enrollment. The payroll and other costs of the program are modest, meaning the program would likely quickly reduce SCSU’s deficit.

It’s important to note that this deficit isn’t a problem. It’s a crisis:

Potter says the school’s budget health depends on how much money the Legislature grants the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System.

That’s a frightening statement, especially in light of the fact that President Potter has made a series of questionable financial decisions. His lease with the Wedum Foundation has cost SCSU $7,700,000 over the first 5 years of the contract.

President Potter’s insistence that SCSU’s declining enrollment was the result of an intentional right-sizing cost SCSU millions of dollars in tuition revenues since FY2010. It’s worse considering the fact that President Potter is clearly indicating that this wasn’t an intentional right-sizing, that it was just his administration’s inability to right the enrollment ship.

Here’s the final criticism I’ll make in this post. When President Potter told the St. Cloud Times’ Editorial Board that the contract with the JA Wedum Foundation was a success, it highlighted the fact that President Potter was either being exceptionally dishonest or he was totally clueless.

President Potter knew this major deficit was heading in SCSU’s direction. This didn’t come as a surprise. At minimum, it’s shouldn’t have been a surprise. Enrollment was tanking. President Potter knew that the Wedum Foundation lease was costing the University millions of dollars a year because that’s what it did while it was open. In 2013, the legislature passed a tuition freeze for MnSCU universities.

President Potter is attempting to spin his way out of getting blamed for his mismanagement of SCSU. History will write the final chapter on his legacy. I wouldn’t bet history will be kind considering how frequently he mishandled SCSU’s financial responsibilities.

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Do The MnSCU Trustees “Walk the Talk?”
by Silence Dogood

Over semester break, things quiet down on campus. This allows time for things that you just might not have time for ordinarily. Just for fun, I was poking around on the website for the Office of Finance and Administration.

If you click on the second link on the left side for “Budget” it takes you to the following page:

On the right side of the page if you click on the first link “MnSCU Information”, you are taken to the following page:

Clicking on the link for the “Minnesota State Colleges and University System Financial Overview,” the following document is opened:

While this might make for interesting historical reading, a document that is nearly four years out of date might not be too useful. Hopefully, there IS a document, which is a bit more current. However, having nothing better to do, I decided to read on anyway.

Slide 3 in the presentation lists the following bullet points under “Financial health and compliance.”

The four bullet points listed in the slide say what the Board of Trustees intends to do regarding “Financial health and compliance.” Essentially, this is “The Talk.”

Not having been present for this presentation to the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee on February 21, 2011 and without further explanation, one can only guess that the first bullet point means that each college/university will sink or swim on its own.

The second bullet point says that there will be a framework for “on-going monitoring of financial condition at each college and university.” The third bullet point “defines required remediation if performance levels are not achieved.” Unfortunately, the presentation gives no details of the “framework” for monitoring, the specific “performance levels” expected, or what is meant by “required remediation.” Essentially, this is what is known in the education community as “administrativespeak.” ‘Administrativespeak’ is defined as words which have no meaning so they can be defined as the situation requires and frequently redefined with changed definitions.

The last bullet point is the only one that is specified in the presentation. The Composite Financial Index (CFI) offers insights regarding financial strengths and weaknesses. The CFI is calculated from four component measures: return on net assets, operating margin, primary reserve, and viability.

The following figure shows the CFI for SCSU and the average for the MnSCU universities from FY 2008 through FY 2013. Additionally, SCSU’s CFI is shown for FY 2014.

In FY11, a 0.8% enrollment decline helped drop SCSU’s CFI. The $44,800,000 revenue from building the Integrated Science and Engineering Laboratory Facility (ISELF) greatly inflated the CFI in FY12 and overwhelmed a 6.9% decline in enrollment. The continuing enrollment decline of 6.4% in FY13 began the CFI nosedive. In FY14, the CFI dropped again to a value of 0.07 corresponding to another 5.1% enrollment decline. Since enrollment for FY15 will be down over 5% once again, it is not hard to imagine that the CFI will go even lower. However, it’s hard to imagine that a CFI can get much lower than 0.07. Is it even possible to have a negative CFI?

The question is, will the MnSCU Board of Trustees “Walk their Talk” or was it just more ‘administrativespeak’ on a PowerPoint slide that is meaningless. SCSU’s $9,542,000 budget deficit for FY15, reflected in a CFI of 0.07 for FY14, has simply grown too large to continue to ignore.

What’s Up/Down With Spring Enrollment?
by Silence Dogood

Classes begin today at SCSU and the current enrollment numbers for Spring semester do not look good. In fact, you might say that they look terrible! As of this morning there were 4,773 FYE registered for classes. Last spring, the final enrollment for Spring semester was 5,294, which means that enrollment is down 521 FYE, which corresponds to a drop of 9.8%. With Senior-to-Sophomore (S2S) enrollments still to come in and some graduate courses still to be enrolled later this semester, the numbers will improve somewhat. Of course, there are always an additional few students who transfer in or just register late. However, these numbers will not affect the overall enrollment significantly.

Last spring, there was a total S2S enrollment of 126 FYE. This fall there were 7.0% fewer FYE in the S2S program. If we assume the same drop for spring, this would translate into 117 additional FYE and reduce the decline to 404 FYE. This fall, there were 6.3% more graduate FYE than the previous fall. If we assume the same increase for this spring from last spring, this would give a total of 567 FYE. Currently, there are 516 FYE graduate students registered so this difference would add 51 FYE and reduce the decline to 353 FYE.

If the spring enrollment is 353 FYE lower than the previous spring, this would give an FYE enrollment for spring semester of 4,941. When the spring enrollment is added to the FYE enrollment for summer (918) and Fall (5,806) would give a total FYE enrollment for FY15 of 11,665. The figure below shows the FYE enrollment by fiscal year from FY2008 through FY2015.

The enrollment decline in the Summer was 91 FYE. The enrollment decline for Fall semester was 272 FYE. If the decline for spring is 353 FYE, this would bring the total decline for FY15 to 716 FYE. In FY14, the total FYE enrollment was 12,381 FYE, as a result a loss of 716 FYE corresponds to an annual enrollment decline of 5.8%.

The following figure shows the percentage change in enrollment from FY2008 through FY2015:

The data in the figure shows that from FY2008 through FY2010 the enrollment grew modestly. In FY2011, enrollment dropped by a small amount. Considering that the enrollment was up 3.7% the previous year, the drop is actually much more substantial and may have been an omen of what was to come. The enrollment drops of 6.9%, 6.4%, 5.1% and 5.8% for FY2011 through FY2015 are unprecedented in the history of MnSCU and represents a loss of 3,445 FYE corresponding to a five-year drop of an ASTOUNDING 22.7%!

To put this into perspective, the entire enrollment at Southwest Minnesota State University in FY14 was 3,678 FYE. In five years, SCSU has lost equivalent to 94% of the entire enrollment at Southwest Minnesota State University! Based on the administration’s own enrollment projections, SCSU’s decline will pass the total enrollment of Southwest next year.

As the enrollment was declining at SCSU, everyone kept hearing about ‘right sizing’ without ever hearing what the ‘right size’ was. Now, everyone is hearing about growing programs and increasing enrollment. All I can figure is that we must have somehow overshot the ‘right size.’ No one still seems to know what the ‘right size’ is but it must be larger that SCSU’s current size.

Since ‘reorganization’ in FY2011, which was done to both cut $14,000,000 from the university’s budget and create an academic structure laying the foundation for an improved university, enrollment has been in what can only be described as a “free fall.” This enrollment drop has led to the current budget shortfall for FY15 of an estimated $9,542,000 based on only a 4.5% decline in enrollment. Recently, Vice President for Finance and Administration Tammy McGee stated that each percent decline in enrollment has a cost of approximately $750,000 in lost revenue. With the actual decline looking like it will be over 5.5%, it is not outside the realm of possibility that FY15’s budget deficit will be significantly bigger than projected.

Without a doubt, substantial cuts will have to be made even if the enrollment reverses. There simply isn’t enough in the University’s reserves to continue covering business as usual. An important question: Has there ever been a time when cuts led to an increase in enrollment? The last time the budget was cut, it triggered the current enrollment decline. Is anyone willing to take a bet that enrollment will increase AFTER another $10,000,000 is cut from the budget?

Unfortunately, the path going forward is all too clear. SCSU will be smaller, average class sizes will increase, and the number of course offerings will decrease. On the bright side, there should be a lot of housing available around campus, traffic during class changes will be less, and finding a parking space should be a lot easier. Who said change isn’t good?

Bad Data Redux
by Silence Dogood

In the PowerPoint presentation “Understanding the Enrollment Downturn” produced by the Educational Advisory Board, one of the implicit assumptions that the enrollment at SCSU is down as a result of a decline in the number of high school graduates and that this will continue going forward. To support this position, the following Figure was presented which shows that the number of high school graduates will decrease by 28,000 nationwide over the ten-year period from 2012 to 2022.

The plot breaks up the country into four regions and shows that the net change in high school graduates for the Midwest will decrease by 38,000 over this ten year period. If you live in the ‘Midwest’, other than for shock value, this plot is of little use. First, it does not explain what states it considers as part of each of the four regions. Secondly, it does not show how the numbers vary with each year over the ten-year period. For instance, it does not show if the numbers rise or fall between the starting and ending points. Lastly, the performance of each state within a region may be quite different and without more information is of little value. If this graph were part of a class assignment, it would probably receive a “D+”; a “C-” if I was being charitable.

Here is a plot from data from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, which has a bit more information because it breaks up the enrollment trend by state rather than by ‘region.’

This figure shows that Minnesota will actually have more high school graduates in 2022-23 than it did in 2009-10. If the Educational Advisory Board considered Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan as part of the Midwest, then perhaps you might be able to see a decline for the Midwest region. Clearly, because of its greater detail, the second plot might be more useful than the first.

If you live in Minnesota, if the second plot were to be used as the basis of making a decision, you might come to a different decision than if you used the first plot. It all goes to show that, in some cases, the conclusion you reach depends upon the data that you examine and the quality of that data.

Despite either the increase or decrease in the number of high school graduates (i.e., the dueling data in the first two plots), the National Center for Education Statistics annual report “The Condition of Education” began with this statement:

Clearly, despite any trend for the number of graduates from high school, enrollment in higher education is projected to increase over the next ten years. The following figure shows the actual and projected enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions by level of institution: Fall 1990-2023.

The U.S. Department of Education data shows the number of students enrolling in Higher Education is increasing from 2009-10 through 2022-23. The National Center for Education Statistics annual report “The Condition of Education” projects a growth of enrollment in 4-year postsecondary institutions from 10.6 million in 2012 to 12 million in 2023 and a growth of enrollment in 2-year postsecondary institutions from 7.2 million in 2012 to 8.4 million in 2023. Based on this data, one just might conclude that enrollment in higher educational institutions is not about to crash and burn over the next ten years but rather shows the potential for slow steady growth!

As a result, it’s hard to see all of this as a doom and gloom scenario unless you are trying to find a way to explain why your enrollment is dropping at a rate that makes it an outlier amongst its peer institutions. Good luck to SCSU in trying to keep the “spin” going.

Bad Data? Or Just Bad Data Analysis?
by Silence Dogood

One of the main points of the PowerPoint presentation “Understanding the Enrollment Downturn” by the Educational Advisory Board is that the enrollment at SCSU is down because the enrollment is down throughout the MnSCU system. One of the main ways that they chose to demonstrate this decline is by using one of MnSCU’s own figures showing the total FYE enrollment in the MnSCU system.

This figure was prepared before the final FYE enrollment was known for FY2014. The actual FY2014 FYE enrollment was 144,524 so the decline in FYE enrollment from the peak in FY11 to FY14 was 13,379, which corresponds to a system-wide drop of 8.5%. Based on this figure, you might expect that all of the members of the MnSCU system are experiencing a decline in enrollment.

The following figure shows MnSCU data for FYE enrollments for the MnSCU universities from FY2003 through FY2014 (the actual final numbers), plus the total of each university’s own predictions for enrollment for FY2015, FY2016 and FY2017.

Clearly, the figure shows that there was an enrollment peak in FY2011 followed by a steady decline. The decline in FYE enrollment from FY11 to FY14 was 3,817 FYE, which corresponds to a drop of 6.5%. As a result, since the MnSCU universities make up only about a third of the total MnSCU enrollment, if the total enrollment decline in the MnSCU system was 8.5%, the enrollment decline in the Community Colleges and Technical Colleges in the MnSCU system had to be on order of 9.5%. Thus from FY11 to FY14, the MnSCU universities were doing ‘better’ than the MnSCU Community Colleges and Technical Colleges as far as enrollment is concerned. As a result, a better comparison might have been to compare SCSU with the enrollment at the universities within the MnSCU system rather than the total MnSCU system enrollment.

Over the same time period that the FYE enrollment at the MnSCU universities dropped 6.5%, SCSU’s FYE enrollment dropped 17.3%. As a result, SCSU’s drop in enrollment greatly increased the percentage drop of the MnSCU universities. From FY11 to FY14, the MnSCU universities dropped 3,817 FYE. SCSU alone, during this same time period, dropped 2,595 FYE, which means that SCSU was responsible for 68.0% of the total drop within the MnSCU universities!

In FY14, SCSU generated 22.5% of the FYE enrollment for the MnSCU universities but was responsible for 68.0% of the FYE decline for the MnSCU universities from FY11 to FY14. As a result, SCSU was responsible for more than three times the enrollment decline than the comparable FYE enrollment percentage that it generated.

In other words, from FY11 to FY14, SCSU’s enrollment decline was the largest source of decline of the MnSCU universities by a wide margin and SCSU declined more than the other six MnSCU universities combined! Occasionally, you will hear the statement “Go big or go home.” In this case, if SCSU keeps going ‘big’ there won’t be a home to go to.

Understanding The Enrollment Downturn?
by Silence Dogood

What can only be described as a final act of desperation, the SCSU administration distributed a PowerPoint presentation produced by the Education Advisory Board (EAB), which describes itself as “one of the largest providers of research, technology, and consulting services to colleges and universities nationwide.” The presentation is entitled

It’s a slick attempt to justify why SCSU’s enrollment is declining. For those who have been listening, they know that it is simply another attempt by the SCSU administration to say: “We’re down because everyone else is down.” Unfortunately, for those who are actually aware of the data, it’s just simply “hogwash!”

The following figure shows MnSCU data for FYE enrollments from FY2003 through FY2014 (the actual final numbers), plus each university’s own predictions for enrollment for FY2015, FY2016 and FY2017.

Only two universities in the MnSCU system could be labeled as being “in decline” and they are Minnesota State University—Moorhead and SCSU. From FY10 to the prediction for FY17, Moorhead’s decline of 1,072 FYE represents a decline of 15.9%. For the same time period, SCSU’s decline of 3,871 FYE represents a decline of 25.3%! It is also interesting to note that Moorhead actually predicts an enrollment ‘bottom’ for FY16 followed in FY17 by an increase of 96 FYE. On the other hand, SCSU’s prediction for FY17 continues the enrollment slide from FY16 losing an additional 195 FYE.

In looking more closely at the data, Minnesota State University—Mankato and Winona are predicting stable enrollment from FY16 to FY17. Bemidji, Metropolitan, MUSM—Moorhead, and Southwest all predict modest growth from FY16 to FY17. From MnSCU’s data, only SCSU is projecting a continuing decline for FY17.

Unfortunately, rather than trying to actually solve their enrollment nightmare, SCSU has hired another consultant to tell us that it’s not our fault that our enrollment is declining because “everyone’s enrollment is declining.” MnSCU’s data and record enrollment at the University of Wisconsin—Stout clearly indicate that the decline at SCSU is of its own making. There is no other way to put it than to say SCSU has made a host of bad decisions that have led to a significant decline in its market share as compared to all of the other MnSCU universities.

The continuing decline in enrollment has led to a budget deficit for SCSU of $9,542,000 for FY15. It’s really a shame that the SCSU administration continues to spend money on consultants to “Understand the Enrollment Downturn.” Certainly, that money might have been better spent on strategies to actually increase enrollment, which is something that might actually help solve the ongoing budget crisis.