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Are We Hearing the Truth about Enrollment?
by Silence Dogood

For a number of years Tom Fauchald, a Bemidji State University faculty member, has provided information about enrollments within the MnSCU system. In his latest report, he compares the FYE fall enrollments for all of the MnSCU colleges and universities. The figure below shows the fall enrollment as of September 13, 2014 as compared to the equivalent date from the prior year:

The bottom line from this Figure is that the enrollment within MnSCU looks to be down 4.1% for fall.

The data for the MnSCU universities has been extracted and shown in the following figure:

Analysis of the data shows that the MnSCU universities are down 3.0% so the good news is that if the MnSCU system overall is down 4.1%, the two-year schools are down more than the MnSCU universities.

However, when you examine the data, it doesn’t look quite so good for SCSU. The data shows that SCSU leads all of the MnSCU universities with a decline of 348.5 FYE. For all of the MnSCU universities, there is a drop of 792.8 FYE, so the drop at SCSU represents 44.0% of the loss. Why this is important is because it appears that both Moorhead and SCSU are down approximately the same amount on a percentage basis but the 5.9% for Moorhead represents 171.4 FYE and the 6.0% for SCSU represents a more than double 348.5 FYE.

Anyone familiar with university budgets knows that headcount enrollments are meaningless in terms of budgeting for two important reasons. Headcounts do not pay tuition and state allocations are based on FYE enrollment. The latest enrollment data supplied by Tom Fauchald shows that SCSU is on track for an enrolment decline significantly larger than the originally projected decline (3.2% last March) and the revised projected decline of 4-5%. The administration at SCSU has a long history of consistently underestimating the amount of enrollment decline. The budget consequences of underestimating enrollment decline is the overestimation of tuition received and the overestimation of students living in dormitories.

If the enrollment declines continue at SCSU much longer, pretty soon someone might notice that there actually is an enrollment problem. In fact, at last Thursday’s SCSU Budget Advisory group meeting, increasing enrollment was mentioned as a means for increasing revenue to off set the current budget shortfall. Unfortunately, saying enrollment needs to increase to increase available revenue does not actually result in enrollment increases. In fact, reversing the five-year enrollment decline must begin with stabilization of enrollment before a dramatic reversal or for that matter a small reversal can begin.

Perhaps the “right sizing” President Potter has frequently talked about has now overshot its enrollment target, but that is impossible to determine since no enrollment goals have ever been announced. Now we are hearing about increasing enrollment by over 900 FYE to solve the current budget shortfall resulting from declining enrollments. Based on recent enrollment history and administrative enrollment predictions, it looks like it is more likely that SCSU’s enrollment will continue to decline more than the administration’s predictions and difficult financial times will continue to be in SCSU’s future.

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