Summer School Brochure
by Silence Dogood

On January 14, 2015, a flashy four-page color brochure appeared in faculty/staff campus mailboxes.

Last December, President Potter sent an email to all faculty and staff entitled “Managing our budget.” In the email, President Potter listed: “a number of new initiatives to increase enrollment, including: Taking steps to revitalize our summer school enrollment.”

One can only assume that this brochure was one of the steps to ‘revitalize our summer school enrollment.’

In the brochure, it states:

The report shows a graph of “Summer Session Credits by School/College.”

The graph clearly shows that the decline in summer session credits it not consistent across the schools/colleges. The declines in the Herberger Business School and the College of Science and Engineering is much smaller than the decline in the School of Education where the decline from FY 2012 to FY 2014 looks to be more than 50%.

The brochure also shows a plot of “Credits by Term and Fiscal Year.”

In looking at the graph, it certainly looks like the decline in credits for Summer is much smaller than the decline in credits for Fall and Spring. In fact, comparing Summer FY 2013 with Summer FY 2014, it looks like a very small decline in credits. However, one might ask what was the intended purpose of this graph in the first place? Was it to show the relative declines for Fall, Spring, and Summer? Was it to show the enrollment decline in summer is not too bad?

A further problem with this graph is that most people have no idea what is meant by a fiscal year. For SCSU, the fiscal year begins with summer term, followed by fall term and then spring term making up the fiscal year. Hence, Summer 2013, Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 are part of FY 2014. As a result, since the plot only shows data up through FY 2014, the plot above omits the data for Summer 2014 and Fall 2014, which are both in FY 2015. Enrollment for Spring 2015 is not final but if you want to know about summer enrollments, perhaps the enrollment from the most recent summer session might be important to know.

The following figure shows the summer FYE enrollment, which includes the most recent summer session.

If you wanted to show the summer school enrollments, this plot is more descriptive than that shown in the 2014 Summer Session Annual Report. Clearly, since Summer’10, the enrollment has been what can only be described as a ‘freefall.’ From Summer’10 through Summer’14, the drop of 409 FYE represents a decline of 30.9%. Thus in a four-year period, summer enrollments dropped by nearly 1/3rd!

Clearly, what data is presented and how it is presented can change your perception of an issue. The graph in the brochure clearly shows enrollment in the summer is declining. However, as presented in the figure above, it is clear that the decline in summer enrollment is staggeringly not small! Looking at the plot in the 2014 Summer Session Annual Report you might not come to that same conclusion. Again, one might ask exactly what is the purpose of this document?

It is also interesting to look at the summer enrollments at the other MnSCU universities. Frequently, it is heard that ‘everybody is declining’ as if that is enough to justify the enrollment decline at SCSU. The following Figure shows the FYE enrollments at all of the MnSCU universities from Summer’06 through Summer’14.

From the Figure, it is clear that the three MnSCU universities with the largest summer enrollments (SCSU, Metro, and Mankato) all experienced declines in enrollment for Summer’14. The four universities with the smallest summer enrollments (Winona, Moorhead, Bemidji, and Southwest) all experienced increases in enrollment for Summer’14. Are the smaller universities are doing something differently than the large universities, which accounts for the differences in summer enrollment?

The figure also shows that SCSU was once the leader in summer enrollments by a wide margin and has now dropped to third! If the trends are extended, it won’t be too long before SCSU slips to fourth place behind Winona! Since Summer’10, it is clear that Winona has been doing something right to grow so much!

The drop in summer enrollment at SCSU didn’t happen in one year, it took four years to drop 30.9%. However, it shouldn’t have taken four years to figure out that something was going wrong with Summer School enrollment.

After dropping 9.0% in Summer’11, alarm bells should have been going off in the administration building. For Summer’11, SCSU was the only MnSCU university with a decline in summer enrollment!

For Summer’12, SCSU’s decline increased to 11.4%. However, for Summer’12 SCSU was not alone in declining. Moorhead led the way with a one-year decline of 17.9%! Bemidji lost 7.6%, Southwest lost 6.8%, Mankato and Winona both lost 3.3%. However, Metro was nearly flat losing only 0.2%.

Unfortunately, the SCSU administration was either unaware of the declines in the summer enrollment for 2011 and 2012 or didn’t know what to do because enrollment again dropped 5.4% for Summer’13. Although a decline, the rate of decline was less than half of the previous year. This in itself might have been considered a small ‘victory.’ Perhaps the administration thought the problem with declining enrollment was taking care of itself. Unfortunately, for Summer’14 the enrollment decline nearly doubled in increasing to 9.4%.

Now, after a four-year period in which enrollment has dropped 30.9%, the President announces that he’s “taking steps to revitalize our summer school enrollment.” So, the ‘flashy’ brochure appears.

A faculty member responded to the SCSU Discussion List:

In my mailbox this morning appeared a flashy, full-color, 4-page brochure entitled “2014 Summer Sessions: 2014 Annual Report.”

Considering the budget crisis we are now under, I am wondering if there might have been a more cost-effective way of conveying this information.”

A second faculty member continued:

“I thought the same thing as I passed out one to each faculty member in my department and then watched most of the sheets get dropped in the trash. An email to everyone could have conveyed the same info.”

Does anyone really believe that this ‘flashy’ brochure will be the salvation of SCSU’s summer school program? Perhaps a wiser investment would have been in some targeted marketing. It appears unlikely, quoting Winston Churchill, that the brochure is a signal of “the end of the beginning” of SCSU’s summer enrollment woes. At best, it might be hoped to signal a slowing of the rate of decline. Only time will tell.

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