NEF Numbers—Is President Potter ‘Out of the Loop’ or Does He Just Make It Up?
by Silence Dogood

I recently reread an article by SCTimes reporter Dave Unze from August 29, 2014 “St. Cloud budget deficit could be 10 million.” In the article, President Potter is quoted “The number of new first-year students is up and the university retained more students from last year to this year, he said.”

The first part of the statement “the number of first-year students is up” directly contradicts information released by the Office of Strategy, Planning & Effectiveness (OSPE) on September 9, 2014:

Using the data from the website for the OPSE, the following plot of New Freshmen Enrollment (NEF) is obtained:

Clearly, the number of NEF for Fall’14 (1,680) is less than the number of NEF for Fall’13 (1,703). The number is only 23 students fewer, which corresponds to a decrease of 1.2% but it certainly is not up! So either President Potter is misinformed or confused about the number of NEF attending SCSU this Fall or he just said what he hoped was true. Whatever the actual explanation for the Potter misstatement, it is troubling that the President did not have a clear picture regarding a most important enrollment metric.

Classes began at SCSU on August 25th, the article was published on August 29th and the 10th day enrollment numbers came out on September 9th. Did the numbers of NEF somehow change? Not likely. While the total enrollment numbers change from the first-day, to the 10th day, to the 30th day, to the final enrollment, the number of NEF may only change by one or two students. The NEF from the 30th day, which was released on October 9, 2014, is up from 1,680 to 1,683 for a whopping increase of three!

However, let’s assume that the number of NEF for Fall’14 was up from Fall’13. If SCSU had 21 more NEF and its number of NEF was 1,704 for Fall’14, this would still be a drop of 697 NEF since Fall’08 corresponding to a drop of 29.0%! Using the actual decline of 718 NEF, the percentage drop is 29.9%.

Is there a university within MnSCU that has had even half of the drop in NEF as SCSU? The answer is no. From F’08 to F’14, Mankato’s NEF numbers are down 7.1%. From F’08 to F’14, Winona’s NEF numbers are down 12.2%. SCSU stands alone as the clear leader in this department.

As to the second part of the “Times” quote, until October 16, 2014 when the Third HuskyData Newsletter was published, no contemporary data has been shared by the administration about the NEF retention rate from Fall’13 to Fall’14 or for prior years for that matter. So, it turns out that President Potter was actually correct in saying that the NEF retention rate is up (70.5% for Fall’12 to 72.8% for Fall’13).

However, with a decline of 718 NEF, which includes the reduction of the number of students who did not meet SCSU’s admission standards (DGS now ACE), one would expect that NEF retention rates would be up and up quite a lot simply based on the academic success profile of the incoming class. Additionally, the increase in the number of NEF due to the increase in the retention rate amounts to an increase of 39 students. Since headcount enrollment is down 5.1% from Fall’13, as reported in the Husky Data 30th Day Special Edition, this amounts to a loss of 776 students. As a result, an increase of 39 students hardly makes a dent in the loss of 776 students. So, President Potter was correct is saying that the NEF retention rate is up from the prior year. However, getting excited about an increase of 39 students when the overall headcount for Fall semester is down 776 students might be unwarranted.

Until October 16, 2014, NEF retention rates had not been disclosed for a number of years, so at least making them public now is a small step in the right direction. A skeptic with a cynical perspective might have speculated that the reason not sharing the until now is the fact that despite dramatically reducing the numbers of high risk for dropping out students (DGS/ACE), the retention rate is up an embarrassingly small amount and considerably lower than in the past as well as considerably lower than rival Mankato.

Additionally, the general retention rate for the largest group of SCSU students, those returning to study in years 3 to graduation has also not been reported for many years. Without the sharing of data, one is left to wonder and given the past history of the Potter administration’s data sharing, as documented by the Great Place to Work Survey data, it is simply more likely to be more of the same.

A popular proverb attributed to Joseph P. Kennedy (father of President John Kennedy) says

The saying can be modified for SCSU

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