Spring Semester Is Wasting Away!
by Silence Dogood

From the website for the Office of Strategy, Planning and Research, you can see a plot of the historic FYE enrollment from FY2000 through FY2014.

One of the most striking features of this graph is that over this period of time the enrollment in FY14 (12,381) is 279 FYE lower than the enrollment for FY00 (12,660). The final enrollment number for FY15 will not be known until after the end of Spring semester. However, enrollment for Summer’14 was down 9.0% and Fall’14 enrollment is currently down 5.1%. As a result, the enrollment decline for FY15 will most likely be over 5% for the year—which would be the fourth year in a row of annual declines over 5%!

On the website, the data is also broken down by semester. A portion of the graph showing the Fall and Spring semesters for the last five academic years is shown below:

A quick look at the two graphs reveals similarities except that the plot for Fall semester shows a maximum for F’10, while the plot for Spring semester simply shows a monotonic decrease in enrollment. Other than that, the two plots look very similar.

However, when you look more closely at the graphs, it appears that the rate of decline for Spring semester is greater than the rate of decline Fall semester. This can be quantified by calculating the percentage change in enrollment from Fall to Spring semesters as shown in the following figure:

Clearly, the downward trend in FYE enrollment from Fall to Spring semester is getting larger! From FY10 through FY14, the FYE enrollment declined 18.0%–a decline that took four years to achieve. However, the decline in enrollment from Fall’13 to Spring’14 is a shocking one-year decline of -12.9%.

Spring semester enrollments historically have always been lower than the prior Fall semester. However, in four years the rate of decline, Fall to Spring, has more than doubled from -5.9% to -12.9%, which corresponds to a 117% increase in the percent of decline! If this had been an increase in the rate of increase it would be impressive but as an increase in the rate of decline it is potentially terrifying!

The Fall semester FYE enrollment shows a decline of 14.7% over the period Fall’09 through Fall’13. The Spring semester FYE enrollment shows a decline of 21.0% over the period Spring’10 through Spring’14. Clearly, FYE enrollment at SCSU is headed dramatically in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, as bad as it looks for Fall semester, the decline in Spring semester is nearly 50% worse!

The enrollment as of September 13, 2014 was 5,509.6 FYE. Clearly, this is not the final enrollment number for Fall semester. However, a year-to-date comparison shows a decline of 348.5 FYE from the prior Fall, which represents a decline of 5.9%. If the final enrollment for Fall semester is only down 5% from the prior year, the FYE enrollment would be 5,774. If the percentage decline for Spring semester is the same as it was for Spring’14, the FYE enrollment for Spring’15 would be 5,029. Adding in the 916 FYE from Summer’14 gives a FY15 total of 11,719 FYE, which is 5.3% down from the previous year.

Clearly, the enrollment estimate of the Data Analytics Group last March of a decline of 3.2% is not as accurate a prediction as one might like. Even the revision of the estimated decline done in the summer that increased and broadened the decline to a range of 4-5% did not accurately predict a 5.3% decline.

Ultimately, increasing Fall enrollments is not going to be a successful strategy if the decline for Spring semester continues to increase. Something needs to be done to find a way to keep a larger percentage of the Fall semester students coming back for Spring semester. The first step is recognizing that there is a problem. This is something that doesn’t seem to occur too often at SCSU unless it is to blame and then fire someone. The second step is trying to analyze the reason(s) for the continuing decrease in the percentage of students returning for Spring semester. The last step is implementing a strategy to reverse the trend and increase the percentage of returning students. Let’s hope that we can at least start with step one. Otherwise, Spring semester might be wasting away as much as Summer School where from Summer’10 to Summer’14, the enrollment has dropped a staggering 30.9%!

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