Concordia assesses optimal size

What is the optimal size for Concordia?

Administrators at Concordia are currently discussing this question, which encompasses student enrollment and the amount of faculty, administrative personnel and support staff that will be the most beneficial to the goals of the college.

“The college as a whole and the students who come here will best thrive and prosper if we can create a more constant, more predictable projection for enrollment and for the size and scope of our programming and staff that are appropriate for that,” said President William Craft.

The optimal size project, as these discussions are being called, was one of the five actions Craft put forward in the 2013 State of the College Address given Aug. 22.

One line from the address reads, “We must seize the present opportunity to determine the optimal size and scope of Concordia College.”

Linda Brown, Concordia’ vice president for finance and treasurer of the college, said the project is a well thought out attempt to analyze the needs of the school.

“We’re thinking about it from a very strategic perspective to say, through this process, how we can align the resources we have available to us to achieve that which we have deemed most strategic and (mission oriented),” she said.

Craft said that two things will be considered as the optimal size project progresses.

First, college administrators and faculty members are considering the decrease in student enrollment.  Second, they are discussing the programs, services and staff Concordia offers.

In light of current enrollment numbers, the optimal size project is an attempt to critically think about what resources the colleges needs to keep and what resources are no longer sustainable.

Student enrollment numbers have declined since 2008.  The total headcount that year was just over 2,800.  The total for fall 2013 was reported to be around 2,500.

In reporting enrollment numbers, Brown said it is important to consider the sophomore, junior and senior classes as well as the size of the incoming freshman class.

Currently, the junior and sophomore classes are smaller than the senior and freshman classes.  This is partly due to a smaller retention of the junior class from their first to second year.

“So our headcount in enrollment for 2013 is lower than our head count for 2012 even though we had 50 more first year students coming into the mix (this year),” Brown said.

Brown cited the economic recession of 2008 and a national low for high school graduates as two other reasons for the decline that has occurred over the past five years.

Although the college has seen a drop in enrollment of about 300 students, Craft said that Concordia is still one of the largest schools within its category.

“2,600 and change makes us larger than any other full time undergraduate population (in our category) other than St. Olaf and St. Thomas,” he said.

He said that even nationally, Concordia is still one of the larger private, liberal arts colleges.  The national average for schools like Concordia is 2,000.  He added that increasing enrollment numbers to match St. Olaf and St. Thomas is not on the docket.

“We do not foresee an effort to move back to pre-2008 size,” he said.  “We’re not aspiring to push back to 2,800 or higher.”

While the decline in student numbers has not been drastic, it has been a source of discussion in the optimal size project.

“We’re trying, in a really serious way, to take a hard look at the balance of resources and how we can direct those best,” Craft said.

Kristi Loberg, chair of the social work department, is currently heading accreditation with Michael Wohlfeil, professor of education, as a Higher Learning Commission self-study co-chair.

In her position as co-chair, Loberg has worked with Wohlfeil to complete a study of the college’s strengths and weaknesses.  The co-chairs have outlined five criteria that Concordia will improve upon in the future.

The fifth of these criteria is very much in line with the optimal size project, Loberg said.

According to the HLC self-study Report, the fifth criterion says  “the institution’s resource base supports its current educational programs and its plans for maintaining and strengthening their quality in the future.”

Because Concordia currently has the faculty and staff for a 2,800-sized student body, the schools’ leaders will have to make important decisions as the optimal size project progresses about what the school needs given the enrollment numbers.

Craft said the project is not a way for the college to disguise making cutbacks in its faculty, programs and support staff.

“It’s a project to determine what the right size is,” he said.  “If we are going to be a college of 2,600 students, then that may lead us to decide that there are certain areas in which we need to have less of something, but there may be other areas that we don’t have less and we may have more.”

He said at this point it is too early to tell what changes will happen.

“It’s kind of like asking how a game (is) going to turn out when you’ve just started,” he said.

He did stress that the changes will not be very drastic.

“We’re not looking for some wild change here,” he said.  “It’s a much tighter calibration.”

The effects of the optimal size project will play out over several years, but it is essentially a three-year project.  Over the next three months, Concordia administrators will discuss and gather feedback from faculty and support staff to “hammer out the parameters for the optimal size,” Craft said.

Loberg said one of Concordia’s strengths is its ability to plan according to certain situations.

“Concordia has a long history of planning well,” she said.  “This is another one of those moments.”

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