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Let’s Blame Part-Time Students!
by Silence Dogood

In SCSU’s FY15 Financial Recovery Plan to the Campus Community dated January 28, 2015, President Potter, in his Executive Summary, blames four factors for SCSU’s financial predicament. One of these factors is part-time students:

“Thirdly, SCSU’s student population includes more part-time students than many of its peers and their percentage is increasing. These students are more vulnerable to economic ups and downs and are significantly more likely to not return or to stop in and out on their path to a degree.”

President Potter wants us to believe that SCSU is running multi-million dollar deficits because of an “increasing” percentage of part-time students.

This was echoed in an article, which appeared in the St. Cloud Times on February 9, 2015 that went even further to justify blaming part-time students:

“Declining enrollment means less tuition and fees are coming in. This school year saw a 5.1% decrease from the previous year. But while the number of full-year equivalents has declined, the actual number of students has not dropped in the same way. From 2011 to 2014, the number of FYE students dropped 17.3 percent compared with a 10.9 percent decline in actual students. That means there are more part-time students now, St. Cloud State’s Vice President for Finance and Administration Tammy McGee said.”

The reason for SCSU’s enrollment decline has almost nothing to do with the number of part-time students. In fact, blaming SCSU’s budget woes on part-time students is like complaining about your acne when you are dying of cancer. The following figure shows the number of New Entering Freshmen (NEF) and New Entering Transfers (NET) from Fall 2007 through Fall 2014.

This data shows that SCSU has a budget issue because the number of NEF and NET has declined by 1,158 students and represents a decline of 30.0% since Fall 2007! Perhaps it is interesting to note that President Potter came in the Summer of 2007 and he reorganized the university in 2010 to be more efficient. Efficient? Yes! Since Fall of 2010, SCSU has efficiently shed 927 NEF and NET, which corresponds to a four year drop of 25.6%! Efficient indeed!

At the same time, the number of NEF and NET has declined, the number of students involved in Concurrent Enrollment (CE) has grown dramatically. CE is where high school students get college credit for taking classes in their high school prior to graduation from high school. The following figure shows the growth in CE enrollment from Fall 2005 through Fall 2014.

Since Fall 2005 to Fall 2014, CE has grown by 2,293 students representing a growth of an amazing 254%!

When the CE is plotted on the same graph with the NEF/NET numbers, the origin of SCSU’s enrollment problem is quite clear:

When combined together, the sum of the CE, NEF and NET enrollments, the trend in the total number of students is increasing. Unfortunately, it takes nearly six CE students to equal one NEF/NET student. It’s like exchanging money where someone gives you a half-dollar and you give them $3.00 and you do this repeatedly and then wonder why you’re going broke.

It’s amazing that President Potter seems to think that these high school students:

“are more vulnerable to economic ups and downs and are significantly more likely to not return or to stop in and out on their path to a degree.”

These CE students are in high school. They are not stopping in and out on their path to a degree. The huge numbers of CE students swamps out any effect of the “economic ups and downs.” Unless President Potter can explain why the enrollments at the other six MnSCU are not following the nose dive that’s going on at SCSU, he might need to come up with a different explanation.

Even Vice President McGee is on the Potter bandwagon when she cites the data:

“From 2011 to 2014, the number of FYE students dropped 17.3 percent compared with a 10.9 percent decline in actual students. That means there are more part-time students now.”

Again, this is a no brainer; there are more part-time students simply because there are fewer NEF/NET and more CE students. However, this analysis by VP McGee and President Potter seems demonstrate that they do not understand the origin of the increase in the number of part-time students and its impact on FYE enrollment. For every NEF/NET that is lost it takes six CE students to just stay even on FYE. Additionally, when you lose one NEF/NET they are not there to take classes in years 2, 3, 4 and possibly years 5 and 6. As a result, the loss of FYE can be substantially greater when you are replacing an NEF/NET with a CE student than the simple loss of headcount.

The reason the numbers of part-time students at SCSU is increasing is clear. It’s the mathematical consequence of declining NEF/NET numbers while increasing the number of CE students. The financial consequences are also clear. The university makes a lot more money on an NEF/NET than a CE student.

Blaming SCSU’s financial meltdown on the increase in the percentage of part-time students illustrates a lack of understanding of the enrollment consequences of dramatically increasing the numbers of CE students at the same time the number of NEF/NET are tanking. Until the administration understands the origin of SCSU’s financial problems, it is unlikely that they will come up with a strategy that will be successful in overcoming them.

One Response to “President Potter’s blame game”

  • Crimson Trace says:

    President Potter ran out of excuses long ago. I just heard that a company near Rogers will not hire SCSU graduates.

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