Reaching a Milestone?
by Silence Dogood

Over the years, there have been numerous calls for reducing the number of institutions of higher education in Minnesota. With the creation of the MnSCU bureaucracy, mergers significantly reduced the number of independent entities without real reductions in capacity. However, as the number of high school seniors has declined over the past few years, there have been additional calls for real reductions.

No community, especially those in ‘outstate’ Minnesota want to see their college or university close because of the significant negative economic impact on the community. Southwest Minnesota State University, as the smallest MnSCU University, has always felt like they have been in the crosshair regarding possible elimination—simply by being the ‘low-hanging fruit.’

While it is true that enrollments in MnSCU institutions have declined over the past few years, not all have declined by the same amount. The following figure shows the FYE enrollment at Southwest Minnesota State University from FY08 through FY14 (Data from the MnSCU website).

The enrollment for FY14 was down 2.4% from the previous year, but is only down 0.2% from FY08. The enrollment for FY14 is down only 3.8% from its high in FY10. One might easily argue that Southwest’s enrollment has been essentially constant given small natural variations.

The enrollment for SCSU from FY08 through FY14 is shown in the following figure (Data from the MnSCU website).

Clearly SCSU’s trend is very different than Southwest’s. After increasing from FY08 to FY10, from FY10 to FY14, SCSU’s FYE enrollment dropped 18.0%! Clearly, there is a difference between an enrollment decline of 3.8% and 18.0%. The enrollment data for summer for FY15 is in and SCSU’s FYE enrollment was down 9.4%. Although the administration in March originally planned for a 3.2% enrollment drop, the administration has recently projected a drop of between 4-5%. However, one source has said that the administration expects the number to be closer to 5.5%.

Assuming that the enrollment drop is the mid-point of the projections at 5.0%, SCSU’s FYE enrollment for FY15 will be 11,761. This would represent a drop from FY10 of 3,335 FYE, which translates into a decline of 22.1%. The total enrollment at Southwest in FY14 was 3,678 FYE, which means that if SCSU loses an additional 343 FYE, SCSU will have lost more enrollment that the total enrollment at Southwest State University!

Consider the economic loss to Marshall and the surrounding community if Southwest were to close. Essentially, SCSU has lost almost that same amount of economic impact on greater St. Cloud.

According to SCSU’s current projections, SCSU will lose 619 FYE from FY14 to FY15 so if SCSU loses 2.9% enrollment in FY16, SCSU will have dropped more than the total enrollment at MnSCU’s smallest university. Last March, the Data Analytics Group at SCSU projected a drop in enrollment for FY15 of 3.2%, which has now been revised significantly upward. They also projected a 2.3% drop for FY16. Since the projection for FY15 was a gross underestimate of the enrollment decline, confidence in the projection of 2.3% drop in FY16 is certainly suspect. As a result, it is beginning to look like the milestone of the enrollment loss at SCSU being equivalent to closing MnSCU’s smallest university will be reached during the next fiscal year. This is probably not a milestone President Potter will list on his resume.

Now there are, of course, those who say that it’s just demographics so there is not much that can be done. However, enrollment at Southwest has not experienced the kind of enrollment drop as SCSU. Additionally, Minnesota State University—Mankato, which is SCSU’s historical rival has also not seen the same declines.

The following figure shows Mankato’s enrollment from FY08 through FY14.

It’s pretty easy to see that the trend at Mankato is very different than that at SCSU. For FY14, MSU—Mankato’s enrollment was actually up! For this academic year, the Mankato administration is projecting a growth of 0.4%. Certainly not huge but certainly better than a decline of 5%! So perhaps the calls for the closing of a MnSCU university will cease because in ‘right sizing’ SCSU President Potter has singlehandedly taken care of the problem. However that still leaves empty and underutilized buildings and duplication of the cost of administration and other non-instructional costs to operate a university. Perhaps Potter’s ‘right sizing” has just created another problem for MnSCU and the state?

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2 Responses to “SCSU’s dubious milestone”

  • Crimson Trace says:

    SCSU’s enrollment loss now rivals the number of students at Southwest in Marshall, MN? Gasp!!

  • Rex Newman says:

    I wish I knew where all these calls for right-sizing higher ed are coming from. The Legislature is still smarting over closing a campus years ago, vowing never again. I doubt even the GOP would attempt closing another, no matter how little it would be missed, no matter that not one student would be denied admission.

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