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Rearranging The Deck Chairs On The Titanic!
by Silence Dogood

The front-page article in the St. Cloud Times on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 proclaimed:

Normally this kind of headline would invoke fears of doom and gloom to an academic institution. However, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Richard Green is quoted as saying

“university officials anticipated the decrease in enrollment, and it’s in line with what they have seen in the past several years.”

Unfortunately, Interim Provost Green has drunken President Potter’s Kool-Aid and fallen into the trap of looking at headcount enrollments, which mean very little. A portion of a table from the website of the Office of Strategy, Planning & Effectiveness shows the headcount and the percentage change for Fall 2010 through Fall 2013.

A portion of a table from the website of the Office of Strategy, Planning & Effectiveness shows the percentage change in FYE enrollment for FY11 through FY14.

In comparing the two tables, in each case, the percent change in the FYE enrollment, the number upon which budgets are based, is SUBSTANTIALLY lower than the corresponding percent change in the Fall headcount enrollment. Critical to note is that for Fall 2013, the headcount enrollment was only down 0.9% but the FYE enrollment for the year (FY14) was down 5.1%. If the headcount enrollment is down by 5.1%, one might certainly expect the FYE enrollment will follow the pattern of the prior four years and be down substantially more than the decline in headcount enrollment.

If the FYE enrollment is down only 5.5% for FY15, the following table of FYE enrollment by fiscal year would be obtained.

With an FYE enrollment of 11,700 for FY15, SCSU will have lost 3,396 FYE since FY10, which represents a decline of 22.5%! No other university in the MnSCU system has ever declined by this percent over any time period!

Too bad the administration’s response is total spin in saying everyone else in MnSCU (or the nation) is down or

“it’s in line with what they have seen in the past several years.”

seems to be acceptable without producing the supporting data. From the administration’s own data, the headcount enrollment for fall has only been down more than 5% once in the last four years and one of the last four years was actually up by 2.9%! The last time the fall headcount enrollment was down by more than 5% (5.6%), the FYE enrollment was down for the fiscal year an astounding 6.9%. Recognizing that the FYE enrollment for the fiscal year is historically and substantially lower than the decline in fall headcount enrollment, people should be asking some very serious questions about what has been going on and what might be the cause of the unprecedented decline.

Consider the question. Has any other MnSCU university, in the history of the MnSCU system, ever seen a one-year decline in FYE enrollment of 6.9%? The answer. NO! SCSU holds the record for the largest one-year decline in enrollment. On top of that SCSU followed the 6.9% decline with declines of 6.4%, 5.1% and now another decline over 5%. This is an impressive negative trend, which is unprecedented!

Let’s look at the commonly heard statement that “everybody’s down.” The data for fall FYE enrollments for all of the MnSCU universities is shown in the following Figure.

The data was current as of September 17, 2014 (after the 20th Day but before the 30th Day enrollment numbers). For Fall 2014, all of the MnSCU universities are down. It is important to understand that these are not final enrollment numbers so they may improve somewhat. Universities such as Southwest and SCSU with very large high school student enrollments may increase their numbers as these students are registered. However, in looking at the Figure, only two universities are down by a significant amount: Moorhead and SCSU. Moorhead is down 6.2% and SCSU leads the way again being down 7.9%. Over the time period shown, from Fall 2007 through Fall 2014, some universities are up slightly and some are down slightly. Only Moorhead and SCSU show significant declines. From its peak in 2010, Moorhead is down 16.5%. From its peak in 2010, SCSU is down 22.8%! The enrollment decline at Moorhead cost the President her job. No other university shows any decline even remotely close to the decline at SCSU. So is the statement that everybody’s down consonant with the data? You be the judge!

As to the administration’s claim of SCSU being larger than Mankato State. Simply take a look at the FYE enrollments. The difference in FYE this fall is 1,079 FYE. This amounts to Mankato having a 19.5% larger FYE enrollment than SCSU. When you look at headcount, SCSU appears larger than Mankato because SCSU has nearly 2,000 more concurrently enrolled high school students. But does having several thousand more high school students receiving college credit with most never stepping on the SCSU campus really make SCSU larger than Mankato?

Provost Green is also quoted:

The first-time, full-time retention rate increased by 2.3 percentage points. And retention of provisionally admitted students increased 6 percentage points.

Looking at the data from the website of the Office of Strategy, Planning & Effectiveness you can see the retention rate for New Entering First-year Students (NEF), ACS/DGS students, University Honors Program students, and New Entering Transfer Students (NET)

The NEF rate and the ACE/DGS rate do show improvements as stated. However the NET rate is stagnant and the University Honors Program rate is down 4%. In fact, looking back, the retention rate for the University Honors Program has decreased from 95% to 82%. A decline of 13% in the best and brightest students at SCSU should probably be cause for concern.

Is a small increase in the retention rate of the NEF students important? Certainly. However the difference of a retention rate of 71% and 73% of 1,662 students leads to an increase in the retention of 33 students. This is certainly good. However, the decline from Fall 2012 to Fall 2013 in NEF students is a decline of 220 students. If the number of NEF had not dropped and the retention rate stayed at 71%, there would be 123 additional students on campus. Clearly, the decline in NEF students is MUCH more significant than a small increase in retention rate.

Provost Green also says:

“The university increased its number of students of color by 2.3 percent this year compared with last year.”

This is laudable. An increase in students of color by 2.3% represents an increase of 55 students.

Additionally, Provost Green continues:

“The number of international students also has grown. There was an almost 9 percent increase in international students this year.”

This is also laudable. An increase in international students by 9% represents an increase of 92 students.

However, these increases in students of color and international students have to be considered in the light that the headcount enrollment is down 5.1%, which translates into a decline of 828 students from the previous fall. Clearly, these increases are good things. However, it seems like complimenting the arrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic after hitting the iceberg. Until the factors that make SCSU an outlier in declining enrollment among MnSCU institutions are fully investigated and strategies developed to overcome them, it is hard to imagine any other outcome for SCSU than that experienced by the Titanic. And it probably won’t matter about SCSU’s new logo, fancy new mascot or branding campaign because they are all really more like rearranging the deck chairs—and we all know how well that worked out.

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