How many SCSU administrators does it take to count aviation students?

Two weeks ago, an argument on SCSU’s employee “Announce” email distribution list serve revealed another attempt to spin the aviation program story with an effort to convey that aviation wasn’t really the 10th largest program at SCSU prior to being elimination. An average person would expect higher education administrators could count students before making a programmatic closure decision. Apparently, the key administrator who was involved with the university reorganization in 2010 was not up to the task. The following comes from an official university document and uses data from records and registration based on the university’s academic structure in December 2010. Using the following chart, it is clear Aviation was the 10th largest academic program prior to its closure.

Three months before the previous count was available, the College of Science & Engineering (COSE) Dean David DeGroote had a slightly different view of the number of aviation students. The following is an excerpt from page 7 of a letter written by David DeGroote. The paragraph below the header information is the final paragraph from the letter and by DeGroote’s count there were 130 aviation students. Perhaps 62 students were admitted to the aviation program during the fall semester of 2010?

On January 19, 2015, David DeGroote sent this email in response to aviation having been the 10th largest program on campus:

“As I have tried to indicate in the past it is not a “fact” that aviation was a top 10 major. I can only hope you will not repost my comment but take it as clarification.”

Numbers are meaningless unless you define their use in the proper context of what you are trying to measure at a point in time. The counts are often compared without a standard for comparison. The “Aviation major” had 192 students as of December 10, 2010. That made it the 10th largest program at SCSU as reported in December of 2010. If DeGroote was arguing that the aviation program was not the 10th largest in terms of officially admitted majors, he should have provided the data. One day later after David DeGroote’s response, Associate Vice President & Associate Provost Lisa Foss weighed in on the matter with the following email to the SCSU campus community:

Dr. Foss provided her work to the campus community via an Excel spreadsheet. The first column provided the rank based on fall 2010 headcount. In the right margin of the Excel spreadsheet, it stated, “Intended majors are not included.” If admission to major is used to define student headcount without controlling for variation of admission standards, the truth regarding the size of a program can easily be hidden. If admission happens early in the student’s course of study, the headcount will include a larger number of students since multiple years (Sophomore, Junior, Senior) of students are counted. If admission happens toward the end of a student’s course of study which frequently happened with aviation students, the headcount will include a smaller number of students since fewer years (Seniors and second semester Juniors) of students are counted. If it typically takes 5 or 6 years as opposed to 4 or 5 years to complete the course of study, further distortion is created since programs taking on average longer to complete will appear larger than they really are and programs that take a short period of time to complete will appear to be smaller. What needs to be done to determine the size of a program is to define a standard measure that introduces the smallest bias possible. Despite the report from SCSU sources that aviation had 192 students at the end of fall of 2010, DeGroote reported there were only 130 aviation students during that year while Foss reported that the aviation program only had 61 students for fall 2010. It is possible all of these counts are accurate however they simply can’t be compared and certainly can’t be mixed when determining the relative size of individual programs like aviation. So how big was the aviation program in the fall of 2010 and how big was the program when the teach out began in anticipation of closing the department?

The size of the aviation program remained in doubt for six months after admissions to the major were suspended. When the program was closed to admission in December of 2010 a variety of student counts were floating around. This confusion ended following what one participant described as an emergency meeting to “get the aviation numbers right”. This same source indicated that President Potter was not happy with the state of confusion. The names of those attending the meeting are shown in the informal minutes taken by the Aviation Department chair, Dr. Harl:

July 25, 2011 Aviation meeting with administration concerning Teach-out process
Attending were: Potter, Maholtra, DeGroote, Helgeson, Palmer, Bayerl, Foss, and Harl.

From the informal minutes, the following statement can be found:

“Aviation has 116 active majors and 9 minors with only 106 registered for Fall 2011.”

On August 15, 2011 President Potter told the St. Cloud City Council in this video there were 125 students however there were inconsistencies in his explanation as to why aviation was closed. At the December 12, 2013 Meet and Confer meeting, President Potter handed out information showing 21 aviation major completions for 2010. Why is this relevant? When Chancellor Rosenstone was challenged by businessman Greg Jarrett as to why the chancellor only reported the smaller number of students in the professional flight track from this post, it appeared the chancellor decided to use the numbers from Dr. Foss which didn’t sit well with Mr. Jarrett.

With the severe airline pilot shortage and as this recent article indicates, Air Force’s Lack of Drone Pilots Reaching ‘Crisis’ Levels, it would be logical to reconsider the aviation closure decision. This has the potential to attract new students to SCSU in order to boost enrollments. Who knows . . . now that DeGroote is the Special Advisor to the Provost for Industry Outreach and Academic Program Alignment, there may be a chance he will reach out to this high demand field by realizing there is an ongoing threat from ISIS and subsequently recommend the reinstatement of aviation. After all, it is a security sensitive program that affects the wellbeing of our citizenry.

In the mean time, President Potter offered a long term solution by creating new programs. Unfortunately, the curriculum approval process for new programs is measured in years and there is no guarantee that any newly developed program will attract a large number of students. In the case of SCSU, short term solutions are desperately needed. Looking at the bigger picture beyond program development for revenue generation, the budget deficit at SCSU is predicted to get worse next fiscal year approaching $16 million. SCSU has now lost nearly 25% of its students in four years and layoffs are imminent.

It was reported that approximately 75% of all the courses taken by aviation students were non-aviation courses throughout the university. These non-aviation courses formed the liberal arts foundation for aviation students who came to SCSU from around the world. Most private businesses would be out of business if they lost revenue from nearly one-quarter of their customers over a four year period of time. With the severe enrollment decline and a critical demand for aviation workers, perhaps it’s time for SCSU to open its doors to aviation students from around the world once again.

One Response to “Which stats are right?”

  • Overseas student says:

    This brings out a variety of facts to the table as to why should aviation be a concern to the community , going back to the fact that there is a school 250 miles away from st cloud is true but it is not as economical and affordable as st cloud, aviation is not just important to the military fighting terrorisim but also to the shortage of pilots in the civilian world. Airlines have been starving for pilots after the introduced their 1500 hour rule back in August.
    It seems that SCSU decision makers and the world around it are not connected to see what really needs to be done.

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