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Who Would Have Thought of Winona as a Competitor to SCSU?
by Silence Dogood

The 10th day enrollments are in and while the overall enrollment may change due to the numbers of Senior to Sophomore (S2S) students still to be registered, the number of New Entering Freshman (NEF) is pretty much their final number. The NEF headcount enrollments for SCSU from Fall’07 to Fall’14 are shown in the following figure:

The data for Fall’07 through Fall’13 comes from the website for the Office of Strategy, Planning and Effectiveness. The data for Fall’14 is current as of the tenth day of the semester.

The figure shows an essentially a constant level of NEF from Fall’07 to Fall’09, which is then followed by a nearly stepwise decline. While some might like to say that it looks like the rate of decline is decreasing, over the time period from Fall’08 to Fall’14, NEF enrollment has dropped by 721 students and represents a drop of 30.0%!

Concomitantly, full-year FYE enrollments at SCSU have also been declining. The following figure shows the FYE enrollment from FY08 through FY14.

From its peak in FY10, the data shows FYE enrollment has fallen by 2,691 FYE corresponding to a decline of 17.8%. This data does not show enrollments for FY15.

The data for FY15 will not be finalized until some time late next spring. However, last March, the administration said they were projecting a 3.2% drop in enrollment for FY15. The enrollment for summer is in and it was down by 9.4% (one set of data shows a decline of 10.2%). The administration has also since revised their enrollment projection to a drop of between 4-5%. So if we assume an enrollment decline of 4.5% (the midpoint of their new projection), we obtain the following figure.

This Figure shows from its peak in FY10, if the administration’s enrollment projection is correct and there is a 4.5% drop in enrollment for FY15, the FYE enrollment will have fallen by 3,249 FYE corresponding to a decline of 21.5%!

Of course it’s easy to say it’s the demographics resulting from the decline in the number of high school graduates that is causing the decline in enrollment. This might be a valid explanation if all or even most of the MnSCU universities were experiencing the same declines. However, the problem is that not all universities are experiencing the same enrollment trends. The enrollment data for Minnesota State University—Mankato, the university closest in size to SCSU and Winona State University, the next largest university in size after SCSU, as well as SCSU, are shown together in the following figure:

Although the data labels may be hard to read because of the overlap, the enrollment trends of Mankato and Winona are clearly very different than that of SCSU. Stable or slightly growing enrollment at Mankato and Winona and significant decline at SCSU. Just looking at the time period from FY13 to FY14, Winona is down 1.8%, Mankato is up 0.2%, and SCSU is down 5.0%. These are significantly different trends!

If you start to look deeper at the data, it gets even more discouraging for SCSU. The following table shows the NEF enrollments of SCSU and Winona from Fall’08 through Fall’14.

Clearly, the figure shows the trends are very different for SCSU and Winona. NEF enrollment at Winona is only down two students from Fall’13 through Fall’14 (1,650 vs. 1,648—a drop of 0.1%), while SCSU’s NEF enrollment continues its downward trend losing 23 students (1,703 vs 1,680—a drop of 1.4%). A comparison of the one-year rate of decline shows SCSU is down 11 times more than Winona. Looking back to Fall’08 SCSU’s NEF enrollment is down 721 students or 30.0%. For the same time period, Winona’s NEF enrollment is down 229 students or 12.2%. For this time period the comparison shows shows SCSU is down 2.5 times more than Winona. While you might argue that the decline may have bottomed out for Winona, the same cannot be said for SCSU. Clearly, the difference in the enrollment statistics between SCSU and Winona is enormous and going in the wrong direction (for SCSU)!

Furthermore, the Minnesota Department of Education has the following graphic (from Minnesota Measures 2014—Report on Higher Education Performance):

This graphic indicates that SCSU has not only fallen far behind rival Minnesota State University—Mankato in attracting Minnesota High School graduates, SCSU is now behind the University of Minnesota Duluth. This data was for Fall’12 so with two additional years of significant decline for SCSU and small growth for Winona State University, it is not far fetched to expect that Winona may soon not only catch but pass SCSU as the ‘top choice’ for Minnesota High School graduates attending college in Minnesota. In fact, for this year, Winona has closed the gap in NEF to SCSU to only 32 students. In the Fall’10, SCSU had 682 more NEF than Winona!

SCSU is substantially larger than Winona because of a larger number of transfer students and graduate students. Additionally, SCSU is larger because of nearly 3,500 high school students in S2S programs. Winona does not participate in S2S.

Another factoid, Winona State University on their website lists Fall’12 to Fall’13 NEF retention at 78%. While SCSU’s retention data has not been made public in recent years, the retention rate for NEF students at SCSU historically has been nearly 10% lower than Winona.

So, not only is SCSU falling in the ranking as the top choice of Minnesota High School graduates, those that do attend don’t seem to stick around. If you keep attracting fewer and fewer students and keep losing higher and higher percentages of those that do come, pretty soon you’ll have a real enrollment problem. Wait! Just what is a decline of 21.5% over five years? President Potter calls it ‘right’ sizing.

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