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Bad Data Redux
by Silence Dogood

In the PowerPoint presentation “Understanding the Enrollment Downturn” produced by the Educational Advisory Board, one of the implicit assumptions that the enrollment at SCSU is down as a result of a decline in the number of high school graduates and that this will continue going forward. To support this position, the following Figure was presented which shows that the number of high school graduates will decrease by 28,000 nationwide over the ten-year period from 2012 to 2022.

The plot breaks up the country into four regions and shows that the net change in high school graduates for the Midwest will decrease by 38,000 over this ten year period. If you live in the ‘Midwest’, other than for shock value, this plot is of little use. First, it does not explain what states it considers as part of each of the four regions. Secondly, it does not show how the numbers vary with each year over the ten-year period. For instance, it does not show if the numbers rise or fall between the starting and ending points. Lastly, the performance of each state within a region may be quite different and without more information is of little value. If this graph were part of a class assignment, it would probably receive a “D+”; a “C-” if I was being charitable.

Here is a plot from data from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, which has a bit more information because it breaks up the enrollment trend by state rather than by ‘region.’

This figure shows that Minnesota will actually have more high school graduates in 2022-23 than it did in 2009-10. If the Educational Advisory Board considered Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan as part of the Midwest, then perhaps you might be able to see a decline for the Midwest region. Clearly, because of its greater detail, the second plot might be more useful than the first.

If you live in Minnesota, if the second plot were to be used as the basis of making a decision, you might come to a different decision than if you used the first plot. It all goes to show that, in some cases, the conclusion you reach depends upon the data that you examine and the quality of that data.

Despite either the increase or decrease in the number of high school graduates (i.e., the dueling data in the first two plots), the National Center for Education Statistics annual report “The Condition of Education” began with this statement:

Clearly, despite any trend for the number of graduates from high school, enrollment in higher education is projected to increase over the next ten years. The following figure shows the actual and projected enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions by level of institution: Fall 1990-2023.

The U.S. Department of Education data shows the number of students enrolling in Higher Education is increasing from 2009-10 through 2022-23. The National Center for Education Statistics annual report “The Condition of Education” projects a growth of enrollment in 4-year postsecondary institutions from 10.6 million in 2012 to 12 million in 2023 and a growth of enrollment in 2-year postsecondary institutions from 7.2 million in 2012 to 8.4 million in 2023. Based on this data, one just might conclude that enrollment in higher educational institutions is not about to crash and burn over the next ten years but rather shows the potential for slow steady growth!

As a result, it’s hard to see all of this as a doom and gloom scenario unless you are trying to find a way to explain why your enrollment is dropping at a rate that makes it an outlier amongst its peer institutions. Good luck to SCSU in trying to keep the “spin” going.

One Response to “Silence speaks”

  • Crimson Trace says:

    A massive 25% FYE enrollment drop + a reduction in state allocation per lost students = big trouble in the form of layoffs.

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