Wisconsin Enrollments
by Silence Dogood

The Leader-Telegram published an article September 25, 2014 on enrollment at UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls and UW-Stout. According to the article,

Starting with the university with declining enrollment—Eau Claire. UW-Eau Claire lists a second-week headcount of 10,619 students, which is down 223 from the same time a year ago. This decline corresponds to a decline in enrollment of 2.1%. When numbers are finalized the article reports that UW-Eau Claire expects to be down only 150 students, which would represent a decline of 1.4%. The article further states that: “The university’s examining statistics to find reasons for the drop.” This contrasts with SCSU, where President Potter simply continues to say: We’re ‘right sizing.’

Consider these two universities. One university is where the enrollment is down 1.4% and people are worried and asking questions. Another university is down in enrollment over 22% and the only comment from the administration is that we’re ‘right sizing.’ However, recently the administration has started saying that we need to “grow our programs.” So the obvious question is how far did SCSU go past the ‘right size’?

UW-River Falls enrollment is listed as being down 20 students but with students still to enroll in mid-semester classes expects “it will be nearly identical to what we had last year.” SCSU recently projected a decline of 4-5% for FY15 (up from 3.2% last March). Unfortunately, current data points to being down significantly more than the administration’s latest estimates. It looks like SCSU will now add its fourth year in a row of enrollment decline over 5%.

The article also states that if UW-Stout enrolls eight more students, it will break its enrollment record set in the fall of 2011. “Meeting freshmen enrollment targets, a rise in transfer students, higher retention rates and more people taking graduate courses were factors to UW-Stout’s increasing numbers.”

Looking at the data for SCSU’s new entering freshmen (NEF):

Fall’08 to Fall’14, NEF enrollment has dropped by 721 students and represents a drop of 30.0%! So it looks like SCSU and Stout are on very different trajectories.

Looking at the data for SCSU’s transfer students (NET):

Fall’08 to Fall’14, NET enrollment has dropped by 306 students and represents a drop of 23.1%! So again it looks like SCSU and Stout are on very different trajectories.

SCSU doesn’t report retention rates. Most of the MnSCU universities have tables of retention rates on their websites; SCSU does not. Historically, SCSU’s retention rates were in the high 70’s. Recently, they have fallen into the high 60’s and now several have claimed to have that they moved back into the low 70’s. However, the administration has not publically provided data on retention rates. The rates at Winona and Mankato are much higher.

Looking at the data for SCSU’s graduate enrollment:

This is the one area showing an increase like Stout. Unfortunately, a 1.00% growth in graduate enrollment, which is only 12% of the total enrollment, will not increase the overall enrollment significantly. Consider if the graduate enrollment had grown by 10% this fall instead of 1.00%, the overall enrollment would have increased by a whopping 1.2%. Given SCSU’s current enrollment situation, this still might be cause for celebration. However, it will not significantly affect the enrollment decline or the need for $8,000,000-$10,000,000 in budget reductions.

Certainly, the graduate enrollment increase is good news. However, since the university was ‘reorganized,’ graduate enrollment has dropped 15.0%. As a result, from an enrollment of 1,620 at a 1% rate of growth, it will take 17 years to get back to the enrollment level in Fall’10. It is also worth noting that the drop occurred in only four years. Given that significant funding cuts will need to be made, it is unlikely that graduate enrollment will continue to rise for two reasons. First, graduate programs have smaller class sizes and therefore higher personnel costs. Secondly, graduate assistantships are easy targets for budget cutters. Neither is a recipe for success in growing a program in a time of budget cutting.

The last time the university cut these kinds of dollars from the budget was when the university underwent reorganization and the enrollment was down over 5% in each of the four succeeding years. It doesn’t look like the enrollment has hit bottom yet. Now the university is cutting again. How will the results be different this time?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. — Albert Einstein

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