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Thanks to an honorable employee at St. Cloud State, we’re getting a pretty good picture of what’s happening at St. Cloud State. Here’s that employee’s story about SCSU’s declining enrollment:

Enrollment Declines and Trying to Make Lemonade
by Silence Dogood

The lifeblood and health of a university is its enrollment. If enrollment is going up, things are good and if it’s going down, someone is usually going to take the blame. The fall enrollments at St. Cloud State University (as taken from SCSU’s own news releases) are plotted in the Figure below. (editor’s note: WordPress wouldn’t permit the downloading of the graphic.)

From Fall 2005 to Fall 2010, the enrollment looks like the stock price for Apple rising with no end in sight. These were the good times. Shortly after Provost and Vice President Devinder Malhotra arrived on campus in July 2009, the university began a process of “Strategic Program Appraisal” followed almost simultaneously by an academic reorganization of the university. Some of this was necessitated by the anticipated loss of Federal Stimulus funds. The overall goal was to cut the university’s annual spending by over 12 million dollars a year. Clearly, this was not something that was going to be fun.

The Enrollment Management Committee (EMC) predicted an FY’11 (Summer 2010 through Spring 2011) FYE enrollment of 15,000. There is some confusion in the way enrollment is counted. Traditional headcount is used when you want to inflate the numbers. However, not all undergraduate students take a full 30-credit load so the total number of undergraduate credits generated divided by 30 gives the undergraduate FYE enrollment. The actual FYE enrollment was 14,993 so the prediction was off by 7 FYE students. All in all, with a 0.05% error you would have to say the prediction was right on the money—remember more students means more tuition and that equals more money!

In the Spring of 2011, the EMC predicted an FYE enrollment for FY’12 of 14,770 (a drop of 230 FYE). Much of the predicted decrease was based on the closure of numerous programs (the largest of which was the accredited aviation program) and the poor press surrounding reorganization. (Who really thought cancelling homecoming was a good idea?) However, the EMC said the enrollment decrease could be much larger.

The Provost didn’t like the EMC’s prediction and increased the FYE enrollment prediction to 14,870—an increase of 100 FYE from the EMC’s projection. As a result, the predicted FYE decline for FY’12 was only 130 FYE students or 0.8%. The actual decline turned out to be MUCH LARGER.

At the same time, without any involvement or consultation with the EMC, the Provost, with the stroke of a pen, tried to increase the size of the Division of General Studies (DGS) program to 850 students from its targeted enrollment of approximately 500 students. For those who don’t know, the DGS program is basically a community college within the university for students who do not meet the normal admission requirements. The obvious explanation for the expansion of the DGS program, of course, was to counteract the anticipated downturn in new entering students for Fall 2011.

On August 19, 2011, Provost Malhotra disbanded the EMC. Normally, joint faculty-administrative committees are formed and disbanded through a discussion at Meet and Confer. In this case, it was just an email.

After five years of continuous enrollment growth, enrollment in the Fall of 2011 was down 5.9%. It is even more striking when compared with the increase of 3.5% from Fall of 2010—combining for a two year decrease of 9.4%! The obvious solution: find someone to blame!

The person they found was Dr. Mahmoud Saffari, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management. On September 20, 2011, Dr. Saffari was given notice that his contract “will end on 90 days from date of letter.”

After the decline in enrollment in Fall 2011, since there was no longer an EMC to project enrollments, Provost Malhotra essentially assumed complete control and he predicted “As SCSU progresses through its transition stage, Malhotra says there is hope for a 1 percent increase in enrollment for next year.”

Instead of a 1 percent “bump” (Malthotra’s own words), the enrollment declined for Fall 2012 by 4.5%. I guess that the good news is that nobody got fired this time.

At the Budget Advisory Committee meeting on February 26, 2013, the enrollment projection for Fall 2013 was given to be a 2.5% decline. At the Budget Advisory Committee meeting on April 30, 2013, the projected decline grew to a range of 2.8-3.2%. However, the impact of returning students, which accounts for more than three-fourths of the enrollment was not fully taken into consideration in projecting the decline. One administrator at the meeting predicted that when the retention of the returning students was factored in the decline would more likely be in the 5-7% range.

After Dr. Saffari was dismissed, he asked, as the administrative contract allows, for the reasons for his dismissal. The letter given to Dr. Saffari, which lists the reasons for his termination came from Provost and Vice President Devinder Malhotra. Dr. Saffari has given permission to release one of the reasons because it is specifically related to the issue of enrollment. From the October 31, 2011 letter from Provost Malhotra: “During my tenure as provost you have not produced a satisfactory strategic enrollment management plan, despite my continual counsel to you to focus on data analytics and statistical predictive models.”

Dr. Saffari’s dismissal is being challenged in the courts as well as being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) so some details have to be omitted. However, if the development of an enrollment management plan was so important that it led to Dr. Saffari being dismissed, why hasn’t the university produced an enrollment management plan in the twenty months since Dr. Saffari’s dismissal? Maybe, that wasn’t really the reason?

Additionally, after more than a year since the dismissal of Dr. Saffari, the presentation made on ‘data analytics’ by Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Student Support Services Miguel Martinez-Saenz at Meet and Confer basically confirmed that students with higher ACT scores and higher class rank are more successful and have higher retention rates. I only hope we didn’t pay too much for that gem of wisdom.

If the data for fall enrollments at SCSU for Fall 2011 and Fall 2012 (as taken from SCSU’s own news releases) are added along with a projected decline of 5% for fall 2013 the Figure shown below is obtained.

First, it’s alarming that the Dr. Malholtra’s enrollment predictions haven’t been close to accurate, especially compared with Dr. Saffari’s projections. It’s certainly legitimate to question whether Dr. Malholtra’s ‘projections’ aren’t fiction devoid of any scientific basis.

Next, it’s important to put these enrollment statistics in the context of St. Cloud State’s declining revenues. This post highlights President Potter’s decision on the Wedum Foundation apartment complex:

Coborn’s Plaza apartments have been a well-kept secret since they opened in the fall of 2010. Even getting accurate occupancy numbers during the first two years was difficult and only given in whispers with those hearing the secrets being sworn to secrecy. Some of that secrecy ended November 13, 2012 when Len Sippel, Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration, released the list of approved funding for permanent investments that included $2,250,000 for the “Coborn’s Welcome Center.”

Losing $2,250,000 in 2 years isn’t good news for SCSU. Compared with the lost revenues from the University’s declining enrollment, though, the apartment is small potatoes. Each FYE spends $8,000 a year. The drop from an FYE enrollment of 15,000 to an FYE enrollment of 13,480 is a loss of $12,160,000. That easily outdistances the money SCSU lost on the apartment deal.

Finally, what’s most disturbing is the reason given for Dr. Saffari’s termination:

F

rom the October 31, 2011 letter from Provost Malhotra: “During my tenure as provost you have not produced a satisfactory strategic enrollment management plan, despite my continual counsel to you to focus on data analytics and statistical predictive models.”

Now we learn that Dr. Malholtra hasn’t put this information together. If that’s why Dr. Saffari was terminated, and I don’t believe it is, then it should be cause for Dr. Malhotra’s termination, too, because what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, too.

Declining enrollment isn’t a scandal. It happens at all universities. Dr. Saffari’s termination, however, might be a legitimate scandal, especially considering the documentation Dr. Malholtra sent to Dr. Saffari. The financial mismanagement at SCSU, however, is troubling.

3 Responses to “What’s wrong with SCSU’s rightsizing”

  • Let’s see…yelling administrators, doctored transcripts, Coborn Apartment boondoggle, and now nose diving enrollments. Is there any good news left at SCSU? “I think I’ll take doctored transcripts for 500, Alex!”

    No doubt, doctored student transcripts is the clear winner and may be up for an Emmy. Reminds me of John Boehner and the IRS scandal: “Who is going to jail?”

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