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“Managing Our Budget”
by Silence Dogood

On December 9, 2014, President Potter sent an email to all faculty and staff entitled “Managing our budget.” Here’s what President Potter said in that email:

This is not the first time President Potter has invoked “demographics” to explain the enrollment decline at SCSU. The first question to be answered is whether or not the assertion about demographics as the cause of the enrollment decline is credible. The following figure shows the FYE enrollments from FY03 through FY14 plus each university’s projected enrollments for FY15, FY16 and FY17:

Unfortunately, in looking at the data for MnSCU enrollments at the seven state universities, President Potter has to come up with an explanation as to why the “changing demographics” has led to increases or at least stable enrollments at five of the seven state universities. Only Moorhead and SCSU show significant declines. Clearly, President Potter wants to find something to blame for SCSU’s enrollment decline. Otherwise, he might have to accept responsibility for SCSU’s enrollment decline.

After a 12.1% decline in enrollment from FY11 through FY14, the President at Moorhead was ‘encouraged’ to retire. Over the same time period, the enrollment at SCSU declined 17.3%. It is interesting to note that during this time period when enrollment was declining 6.9% in FY12, 6.4% in FY13 and 5.1% in FY14, President Potter received “Exceptional Performance Pay” for FY12 of $12,000 and for FY13 of $13,000. One is only left to imagine how much the enrollment at SCSU would have declined had he not been so ‘exceptional.’

The second part of President Potter’s statement cites declining enrollments “across Minnesota and the region.” In September, the Eau Claire Leader Telegram published an article on September 27th, 2014 stating that enrollment at University of Wisconsin—River Falls was within twenty students of having the same enrollment from the prior year and that the University of Wisconsin—Stout was within eight students of setting a new record enrollment.

Looking at the Wisconsin university system, enrollment data released in September shows the comprehensive universities, which are the most like the MnSCU universities are actually up in enrollment by 1.6%. Over the time period FY11 through FY14, the worst performing university is UW-Parkside with a decline in enrollment of 10.5%. Compare this with SCSU’s decline of 17.3% over the same period of time and a decline of ‘only’ 10.5% starts looking pretty good. It is also important to note that two universities are up over 7% and one is up nearly 13%! This certainly does not look like declines due to demographics, as President Potter says, “across Minnesota and the region.”

Are some universities in Minnesota and the region experiencing an enrollment decline? The answer is yes. However, because many universities are increasing their enrollments, it is clear that rather than simply acknowledge that there has been a recent decline in students graduating from high school, they decided to do something proactively rather than just accept their supposed fate that enrollment is going to go down.

Compare this to the situation at SCSU. President Potter, at first, didn’t even acknowledge that the enrollment was going down. When that no longer worked, he began saying that he’s ‘right sizing’ the university. Unfortunately, without an enrollment management plan, everyone just had to take his word for it. However, we must have overshot President Potter’s ‘right size’ because he now states:

For FY12 FYE enrollment dropped 6.9%, for FY13 FYE enrollment dropped 6.3%, for FY14 FYE enrollment dropped 5.1%, and for FY15 FYE enrollment is on the way to being down over 5% again. Now that the administration has finally recognized the enrollment drop over a four-year period is over 21%, the administration has announced “initiatives to increase enrollment.”

The enrollment decline also has significant financial consequences. More than a week after opening convocation ceremonies last August, President Potter announced that for FY15 there was budget shortfall of $9,542,000. In his December 9th email, President Potter announced “a number of activities to manage our FY15 budget.”

Finally, President Potter has decided to convene a “steering group” to “identify opportunities for cost reductions.” This is ‘administrative speak’ for cuts.

Clearly, SCSU is an outlier among the MnSCU universities—and not in a good way! While cuts may be necessary because of the current financial situation, one must ask what led to the current financial situation. If we don’t understand what led us to the position we currently find ourselves, as George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Five years ago, under the guise of reorganization, the administration cut $14,500,000 from the budget (we now know that perhaps only $2,500,000 needed to be cut). Unfortunately, now only five years later, the situation is repeating itself. In this case, only $9,542,000 needs to be cut so that might be considered ‘progress.’ However, since the administration failed to learn from the past and take corrective action, it appears that SCSU is condemned to repeat it.

One Response to “SCSU budget update”

  • Patrick-M says:

    According to the SCSU Undergraduate Admissions web page: http://bit.ly/1AcMcCO COST FOR 2014-15: In-state tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board is $16,302. Now if we added the 200 Aviation students that are no longer attending due to Potter, Maholtra and DeGroote’s fine wisdom of closing the program there would be (200 X $16,302) $3,260,400 more in the coffers (minus about $400,000 program costs). Guess they don’t require basic business skills to be a university administrator. They only need to know how to pander to the faculty/staff in the “social conscious” degrees and blame others for their failings.

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