What’s Up/Down With Spring Enrollment?
by Silence Dogood

Classes begin today at SCSU and the current enrollment numbers for Spring semester do not look good. In fact, you might say that they look terrible! As of this morning there were 4,773 FYE registered for classes. Last spring, the final enrollment for Spring semester was 5,294, which means that enrollment is down 521 FYE, which corresponds to a drop of 9.8%. With Senior-to-Sophomore (S2S) enrollments still to come in and some graduate courses still to be enrolled later this semester, the numbers will improve somewhat. Of course, there are always an additional few students who transfer in or just register late. However, these numbers will not affect the overall enrollment significantly.

Last spring, there was a total S2S enrollment of 126 FYE. This fall there were 7.0% fewer FYE in the S2S program. If we assume the same drop for spring, this would translate into 117 additional FYE and reduce the decline to 404 FYE. This fall, there were 6.3% more graduate FYE than the previous fall. If we assume the same increase for this spring from last spring, this would give a total of 567 FYE. Currently, there are 516 FYE graduate students registered so this difference would add 51 FYE and reduce the decline to 353 FYE.

If the spring enrollment is 353 FYE lower than the previous spring, this would give an FYE enrollment for spring semester of 4,941. When the spring enrollment is added to the FYE enrollment for summer (918) and Fall (5,806) would give a total FYE enrollment for FY15 of 11,665. The figure below shows the FYE enrollment by fiscal year from FY2008 through FY2015.

The enrollment decline in the Summer was 91 FYE. The enrollment decline for Fall semester was 272 FYE. If the decline for spring is 353 FYE, this would bring the total decline for FY15 to 716 FYE. In FY14, the total FYE enrollment was 12,381 FYE, as a result a loss of 716 FYE corresponds to an annual enrollment decline of 5.8%.

The following figure shows the percentage change in enrollment from FY2008 through FY2015:

The data in the figure shows that from FY2008 through FY2010 the enrollment grew modestly. In FY2011, enrollment dropped by a small amount. Considering that the enrollment was up 3.7% the previous year, the drop is actually much more substantial and may have been an omen of what was to come. The enrollment drops of 6.9%, 6.4%, 5.1% and 5.8% for FY2011 through FY2015 are unprecedented in the history of MnSCU and represents a loss of 3,445 FYE corresponding to a five-year drop of an ASTOUNDING 22.7%!

To put this into perspective, the entire enrollment at Southwest Minnesota State University in FY14 was 3,678 FYE. In five years, SCSU has lost equivalent to 94% of the entire enrollment at Southwest Minnesota State University! Based on the administration’s own enrollment projections, SCSU’s decline will pass the total enrollment of Southwest next year.

As the enrollment was declining at SCSU, everyone kept hearing about ‘right sizing’ without ever hearing what the ‘right size’ was. Now, everyone is hearing about growing programs and increasing enrollment. All I can figure is that we must have somehow overshot the ‘right size.’ No one still seems to know what the ‘right size’ is but it must be larger that SCSU’s current size.

Since ‘reorganization’ in FY2011, which was done to both cut $14,000,000 from the university’s budget and create an academic structure laying the foundation for an improved university, enrollment has been in what can only be described as a “free fall.” This enrollment drop has led to the current budget shortfall for FY15 of an estimated $9,542,000 based on only a 4.5% decline in enrollment. Recently, Vice President for Finance and Administration Tammy McGee stated that each percent decline in enrollment has a cost of approximately $750,000 in lost revenue. With the actual decline looking like it will be over 5.5%, it is not outside the realm of possibility that FY15’s budget deficit will be significantly bigger than projected.

Without a doubt, substantial cuts will have to be made even if the enrollment reverses. There simply isn’t enough in the University’s reserves to continue covering business as usual. An important question: Has there ever been a time when cuts led to an increase in enrollment? The last time the budget was cut, it triggered the current enrollment decline. Is anyone willing to take a bet that enrollment will increase AFTER another $10,000,000 is cut from the budget?

Unfortunately, the path going forward is all too clear. SCSU will be smaller, average class sizes will increase, and the number of course offerings will decrease. On the bright side, there should be a lot of housing available around campus, traffic during class changes will be less, and finding a parking space should be a lot easier. Who said change isn’t good?

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