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Deceived by Headcount Enrollment
by Silence Dogood

If you look at the Fall semester headcount (often called enrollment) for SCSU from the MnSCU website from Fall 2005 through Fall 2013, you obtain the following plot:

SCSU’s enrollment reached a peak of 18,611 in the Fall of 2010 and has declined significantly the past three years. Based on the data on the MnSCU website as of December 19, 2013, the enrollment for Fall 2013 is down 210 students compared with Fall 2012. This translates into a decline of 1.24%. Even the St. Cloud Times reported this as ‘good news’ because the administration had projected a 5% decline. Based on the plot and a decline of only 1.24% for Fall 2013 you might think that enrollment at SCSU is bottoming out and things are going to be just fine given a little time. You’d be wrong in making that assumption!

The Minnesota Legislature created the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) program in 1985, which allows juniors and seniors still in high school to earn college credit. The following plot shows the fall enrollment of PSEO students at SCSU from Fall 2005 through Fall 2013.

As illustrated in the figure, the enrollment growth since the Fall of 2005 has been amazing! John Bergeson, Dean of the Center for Continuing Studies is nothing less than a miracle worker. Under his leadership, enrollment in PSEO for high school students has grown a total of 265% over this time period.

However, if you take a look the total enrollment shown in the first figure and then subtract the PSEO enrollment in the second figure, you get a very different picture of St. Cloud State’s enrollment.

When you compare this plot with the one shown in the first figure, this plot shows that the vast majority of the growth in the enrollment from Fall 2005 through Fall 2010 was due to the growth of the PSEO enrollment and the rate of decline in enrollment for Fall 2011 through Fall 2013 has been masked by the significant growth in PSEO enrollment. These effects can easily be shown by calculating the percentage of the total enrollment due to PSEO students.

In Fall 2005, PSEO enrollment accounted for 6.59% of the total enrollment. For Fall 2013, the percentage of the enrollment due to PSEO students has grown to an amazing 19.7%. I would be willing to just about bet anything that very few people on campus actually know that the percentage of headcount due to PSEO students is approaching 20% or one in five students!

As a comparison, it is interesting to see a similar plot for Minnesota State University—Mankato:

Clearly, the percentage enrollment due to PSEO students is much smaller at MSU—Mankato and while generally increasing the rate of increase is much smaller than at SCSU. From MnSCU data for Fall 2013, the percentage of the enrollment at MSU—Mankato due to PSEO students is 4.71% compared to SCSU’s 19.7%.

In looking at enrollment, there are two different numbers to consider: Headcount and Full Year Equivalent (FYE). Headcount (often just called enrollment) simply counts each different student who is enrolled. FYE enrollment is the total number of credits generated divided by 30 for undergraduate students and 20 for graduate students. Because part-time students are only taking one or two courses, headcount is always significantly larger than the FYE numbers. Since part-time students can significantly distort the enrollment number’s impact on the revenue side of a university’s budget, MnSCU bases a university’s base budget on FYE rather than headcount.

Guess how post secondary enrollment students impact enrollment? If you guessed they increase headcount and only slightly increase FYE, you would be correct.

At SCSU in the Fall of 2013, PSEO students are taking an average of 5.1 credits so each PSEO student is equivalent to about 1/6th of an FYE. So, if you want to make enrollment look larger, you talk about headcount. However, remember budgets are based on FYE so headcount is really just a ‘feel good’ statistic. Headcount is also easier to understand and easier to report but when it comes to determining the budget impact of enrollment easier is not better!

If you really want to see a true picture of the enrollment’s impact on the financial health of a university, take a look at FYE enrollments. If you want to see the financial impact of PSEO you can take the FYE enrollment for SCSU and subtract the FYE for PSEO.

Clearly, without the FYE added from the PSEO students, the FYE Enrollment at SCSU falls from a peak of 6,760 FYE in Fall 2010 to 5,523 FYE in Fall 2013, which corresponds to a drop of 1,237 FYE or a drop of 18.30% over 3 years. So without the PSEO students, our enrollment would look much worse than it is!

However, accounting for PSEO students is not only important when looking the mix of students attending SCSU, it is probably more import when considering the revenue and expense impact of PSEO on the university’s budget. There is a small addition to the revenue budget that result from a state appropriation that is loosely tied to FYE enrollments. The impact on tuition revenue is much more dramatic since the PSEO students do not pay tuition. A quick back of the envelope calculation using the Senior to Sophomore (S2S) contract revenue total for the Fall of 2013 and dividing by the number of credits taken by S2S students this fall shows an estimate of revenue per credit that is about 1/3 of the full tuition normally charged. Unfortunately, it is not possible to have an exact calculation because the administration has never provided a balance sheet for the PSEO program.

So back to Dean Burgeson. Give him a pay raise because without the headcount and small revenue the PSEO program raises, SCSU’s headcount would be significantly smaller and lower in revenue production. However, let’s think about it for a minute. Without considering the expenses of delivery of programs like S2S, it is impossible to know if the net effect of Dean Burgeson’s work is a positive or a negative. It is entirely possible that SCSU’s costs for delivery of S2S exceed the revenue produced. If that is the case another kind of distortion occurs and SCSU’s financial health as gauged simply by enrollment may be significantly flawed.

In addition to finding answers to some of the financial questions, perhaps pedagogical questions also need asking. Who is really teaching the Senior to Sophomore students? While for each class there is a faculty mentor at SCSU, the classroom teaching is done at the high school by the high school teacher. Was the rapid expansion of PSEO at SCSU intended? Are adequate safeguards in place to insure the quality of the experience high school students receive worth of college credit? Finally, what will be the long-term impact on SCSU and the greater St. Cloud community if nearly 20% of the students included as attending SCSU never come to St. Cloud?

2 Responses to “Explaining SCSU’s enrollment”

  • walter hanson says:

    Gary:

    Of course since the DFL doesn’t care about performance you can bet next year no one from SCSU will be there to answer questions let alone be forced to answer questions.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  • Alexandria DuFresne says:

    Obviously, the person who prepared this report failed to mention that at SCSU, the Senior to Sophomore program is self-supporting. That program generates the revenue that covers payments to faculty (including their benefits) who participate, program operating costs and salaries/benefits for the individuals who support the program. On campus PSEO is different from concurrent enrollment. Perhaps Mr. Dogood should know what he is talking about before he publishes something and bears false witness about a program he knows nothing about.

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