GREAT NEWS: Enrollment Decline Less than Expected?
by Silence Dogood
At 6:19 p.m. last Friday evening, Dave Aeikens published an article in the online version of the St. Cloud Times stating that SCSU announced that fall semester enrollment is down only 1.3%! This is amazing news since only two days earlier on Wednesday, at Meet and Confer between the Faculty Association and the SCSU Administration; the administration distributed a budget document planning for a 5% decrease in enrollment and a budget reduction of over $2,800,000. If the news that Dave Aeikens reports is true, this is truly incredible news since it means that SCSU can avoid making painful cuts after two years of significant enrollment declines.
Remember, at the Meet and Confer on September 5, 2013, the SCSU Administration stated that they had been planning on a 4% decline in enrollment; at least that was the number they told the faculty that they used to build their budget last spring. From the data presented by the administration at the Meet and Confer on September 5th, it looked like the enrollment would be down significantly more than 4%. At this time, President Potter emphatically stated that the enrollment was going to be down 5% and that this was only 1% more than they had projected. Just for the sake of accuracy, while it is true that the September predicted enrollment decline was only 1 percentage point greater than their predicted number from last spring, it is actually a 25% error in their prediction. At the September Meet and Confer, the administration also distributed a budget document showing a 5% enrollment decline and the corresponding decline in the budget resulting from the enrollment drop.
While reviewing the budget impact of an enrollment decline of 5%, there was a collective gasp in the room on the part of the faculty. Certainly, these kinds of cuts could not be made without mentioning the R-word (retrenchment). The administration was asked and they said that they were not considering retrenchment at this time (see Meet and Confer minutes of 9/5/2013). However, the administration did not indicate how they would cut the more than $2,800,000 in expenditures from the budget—only that it wouldn’t come through retrenchment. The faculty breathed a collective sigh of relief!
So, if the information reported by Dave Aeikens is correct, CONGRATULATIONS to President Potter and his management team for nearly turning the enrollment ship around! After drops in fall enrollments of 5.9% and 4.5% to go to a drop of only 1.3% is nothing short of amazing! It is also now clear that the administration’s planning last spring for a 4% decline was quite insightful in light of the now actual 1.3% decline. Anyone familiar with budgets appreciates just how difficult it is to plan for one number and then need to cut the budget in a panic when the enrollment (think revenue) declines more than planned. Again, congratulations to President Potter!
Of course, congratulations are all dependent on whether or not you believe the administration. The MnSCU website on the thirtieth day classes showed enrollment at SCSU to be down 5.6% in FYE (full-year equivalent). The number SCSU is reporting to the SCTimes is headcount where a student taking one class is counted the same as one taking 15 credits. Headcount has nothing to do with budgets. It is just a number that allows the administration to say that we are ‘bigger than Mankato’. In terms of unduplicated headcount, SCSU is indeed bigger than Mankato. However, other than for presidential bravado, headcount is largely meaningless!
From MnSCU’s website as of Tuesday morning, the thirtieth-day enrollment numbers showed Mankato has 6,699 FYE compared to SCSU’s 6,006 FYE. Simply put, Mankato is 10.4% larger than SCSU where it really counts—REVENUE. So much for being “the largest school in the system.”
In an earlier article, titled lying with statistics, I demonstrated the way statistics could be used to obfuscate the truth. The truth will become clear when the administration begins to talk about making changes in the budget. Will the changes be made to reflect more revenue? Or will the changes reflect more than a 1.3% drop in tuition revenue? An astute reader already knows the answers to these questions.
The administration planned a budget based on a 4% drop in enrollment (revenue), using the administration’s enrollment numbers you might think there will be no need to cut expenditures since revenues dropped less than anticipated. It appears, based on a 1.3% decline in enrollment that SCSU will have approximately $1,500,000 more cash that can be spend than had been anticipated and spending won’t need to be cut. So at least it looks like the spending to cover the anticipated nearly $1,000,000 short fall on Coborn’s Plaza, the new contract ($240,000) with the City of St. Cloud for the additional police officers patrolling the campus, the $150,000 for the Confucius Institute, and the latest $50,000 for a campaign to “make SCSU a great place to work” won’t break the bank.
All of the preceding apparent good news is dependent on you believing the almost tornadic spin being generated by the University’s PR machine and everything is great right here at the ‘River City’s University.’ But spin does not pay the bills. As anyone who knows how to balance a checking account knows, less money coming in means less money to spend. When you see that spending has to be cut and the surplus created by statistical slight of hand disappears, the reported 1.3% drop in enrollment will be outed for what it is and the truth will be known. You can then decide if the SCSU administration was lying with statistics or if they were just plain lying!
Comments welcome at Let Freedom Ring.