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Enrollment 2015: Decline continues, departments adapt

According to the student census report released on Sept. 10, located on Concordia’s Institutional Effectiveness page, the number of fulltime students at Concordia has dropped by 207 since last year – from 2,332 students to 2,125 students.

The number of fulltime students at Concordia follows a two -year downward trend, but is expected to stabilize by next year, according to Karl Stumo, Vice President of Enrollment and Marketing.

From 2012-2015, the graduating class was greater than the first-year class that arrived in that same academic year. For three years, the senior class was bigger than the class replacing it.

According to Stumo, last year’s enrollment projection for new first year students was based on a variety of indicators.

“One of those indicators was the conversion rate of inquiries to applicants,” he said. “Our targeted conversion rate based upon historical averages was approximately 12.5 percent. The actual conversion rate was approximately 10.5 percent. The decrease in the conversion rate generated a smaller pool of admitted Concordia students, and thus, a smaller first year class than was projected.”

Stumo went on to say that while the number of new students fell below the targeted levels, the total number of students enrolled at Concordia fell within budgeting parameters established for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

Jasi O’Connor, director of institutional effectiveness, said the college’s enrollment has been trending down for two years now, and before 2013, enrollment fluctuated more.

“It might go down and then up. We’ve really just had two years where it sort of decreased,” O’Connor said.

Because the budget process for the year starts in October, the projection of enrollment numbers began months before the college received the actual numbers.

O’Connor admits there often is a small discrepancy between the projected numbers and the actual enrollment numbers.

“It’s certainly not a surprise to anyone who is involved in the enrollment or budgeting processes because we start to estimate those many months before the year starts,” O’Connor said.

The estimates regarding enrollment are based off several sources and a variety of criteria, including the number of high school graduates in Minnesota, according to Stumo.

Concordia receives a projection of high school graduates from across the country by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education. The number of Minnesota high school graduates is projected to stay nearly the same for the next five to seven years, Stumo said.

“These data are calculated on the basis of annual birth rates within states and calculated migration in and out of the state from year to year,” he said.

According to the projection by Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, the number of high school graduates in Minnesota has been declining since the 2009-10 school year. In that year a projected 64,641 students graduated high school in Minnesota, and those numbers went down steadily before hitting a low at the 2013-14 school year, which had a projected 59,379 Minnesota high school graduates. Last year, for the 2014-15 academic year, the number of projected graduates went up to 59,878.

According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, 67 percent of Minnesota high school graduates went to college in 2013; 46 percent of all of the graduates chose to go to a college or university in Minnesota.

Stumo explained that during the next five to six years, Concordia will be striving for managed growth.

“Managed growth means we are taking a very informed and empirical approach to enrollment planning in both the near and long term.” he said.

Stumo said that for managed growth to happen, targets for enrollment numbers need to be set. This requires analysis of the number of high school graduates in the region around Concordia, Stumo explained.

The number of high school graduates is expected to slowly rise until 2020-21 according to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education.

During the past several years, smaller classes have been graduating from the high schools, O’Connor said.

“I believe that in Minnesota, at least, that the high school graduation population has been declining. I think we are, if I’m remembering correctly, at the bottom of that decline,” O’Connor said.

When the college has fewer students to pull from, the total number of students will trend downward, according to O’Connor.

“If you bring in a smaller class, you will feel the effects for four years,” O’Connor said.

In 2015, the number of students who continued studying at Concordia after their first year was 83 percent, according to the student census.

“A really positive thing is that over the last 10 years the first to second year retention rate has increased,” O’Connor said.

According to Stumo, the college focuses on three factors to improve retention: the academic quality of the student, the college’s affordability and the students’ budgeting and the counseling and co-curricular activities available for students.

Stumo says to achieve higher retention, the college tries to admit the best students possible, to help students with budgeting and to improve the counseling services and co-curriculars.

The retention rate in 2015 was 83 percent, and 85 percent in 2014, but 10 years ago ,retention was at 80 percent. O’Connor also said that Concordia’s goal for retention rate is 90 percent for first to second year students. The high retention rates are “a good indication that students are having a good educational experience,” O’Connor said.

According to O’Connor, the low enrollment will not cause many major changes that students will see. Students might notice smaller classes, and fewer people in dining services and residence halls.

“But in terms of how it will affect their day to day educational experience I think they won’t notice…any difference,” O’Connor said. “There really hasn’t been a decline in course offerings or programs available, those are all still very steady and stable.”

Dr. Douglas Anderson, chair of the mathematics department agrees that the faculty and courses being offered have stayed relatively the same in the department. He credits the steady offering of higher level courses to the popularity of the math major.

“Math is a little bit interesting because the number of math majors is staying about the same,” he said.

However, he said, introductory math courses have reduced in class size.

“Many students are getting their math credit in high school, or PSEO, and we see smaller numbers enrolling there,” Anderson said. “We have eight mathematicians [on staff] and we could lose a half a position. The Dean decides this semester.”

Anderson said if the department loses half a position due to another drop in enrollment, the number of introductory courses offered would be affected. But Anderson expects the number of math majors to remain the same.

On the other hand, the drop in enrollment has negatively affected the faculty and course offerings in the English department, according to English Department Chair Dr. Jonathan Steinwand.

“Our writing program and our journalism program are robust, but we don’t have the number of declared majors in the literature programs that we’ve been used to,” he said. “What we did is we changed the frequency of offerings. Some courses that were offered every third semester will be offered every fourth semester. It’s going to take more planning and advising to sequence courses, but we can manage that. We have all the courses.”

Steinwand said the English department was one of several departments that had to make changes to accommodate budget cuts.

“The Dean presented a plan that was a two-year process to get our faculty ratio to our target,” Steinwand said. “[The Dean] gave a certain number of FTE’s that would need to be re-imagined. This is the second year of that process. We anticipate there’s going to be more impact…we don’t anticipate dramatic changes in the English department, but we also don’t anticipate hiring, either.”

Steinwand was quick to correct the language used in the Concordian article published in September of 2014 regarding the budget changes the college made to balance their over-projection.

“We did not meet our projected targets of enrollment upon which our budget projections were based,” Steinwand said. “It wasn’t a deficit. [The college] projected a higher budget than we were able to have. As our students declined, our faculty had not declined.”

For the English department, the budget cuts meant reducing their number of part-time faculty.

“[The English Department was] asked to find a way to deliver our programs without hiring adjuncts,” Steinwand said. “Over the past decade or so we’d been relying on adjuncts to teach a number of our composition classes in particular as we participated in the inquiry seminar.”

However, Steinwand was not totally caught off guard when the department was asked to make accommodations.

“We had been anticipating changes the minute we heard enrollment reports,” Steinwand said. “There was a very clear statement in the opening workshops [last fall] that there would be some plan to reorganize departments…the specifics took a while to materialize.”

Steinwand credits the drop of enrollment and the recent budget changes to the poor economy.

“With the smaller classes, there’s been a bit of a trend away from the soul of the academy,” he said. “It tracks pretty closely with our literature enrollments. Students have been graduating away from traditional liberal arts.”

According to an article referenced by Steinwand and published on on July 30, the unemployment rate can now be tracked to student’s major.

“When more people are unemployed, there’s a tendency to move into STEM fields that are [in] high demand and perceived to be secure financially,” Steinwand said. “That’s a bit of concern to a liberal arts college.”

Steinwand says the faculty in the department are handling the changes with professionalism, even though they may not be able to teach the classes they taught in previous years.

“With the changes in frequency, that means faculty are not going to be able to teach their specialties as often,” he said. “There’s some pain that goes along with that, but it’s all taken professionally and with understanding of the situation.”

Even though the courses are being offered with less frequency, the English department faculty have been able to collaborate with President Craft to accommodate the needs of students.

“There were two education students and they were determined to take Shakespeare,” he said. “We were able to make an arrangement with President Craft to do it as an independent study. We were able to accommodate those students’ concerns and preferences.”

Orientation Committee Member Tom Dukatz noticed quite a difference between the information the committee was given in January 2015, and the information given in July, as they were making final preparations for Orientation Week.

“There was a really bad forecast made by enrollment in the spring,” he said. “All our numbers were off. Originally we were going to be at over 30 clubs because the projected enrollment was 700. We hired staff…to fit that need and midway through the summer, we got the actual enrollment numbers…and they were over 20 percent off. We had to release Orientation Leaders that we’d already hired and gone through training with.”

Dukatz noted that the change in staff was not huge, but he wished it could have been avoided.

“It wasn’t too many,” he said. “It was two or three [positions], but considering we had already trained them in, it was kind of awkward.”

Dukatz said enrollment in some inquiry seminars was too low, so students had to be placed elsewhere, but everything held together from a program standpoint pretty well. The committee was able to adapt to the difference in numbers.

“Enrollment [gave] us…a projection [in January 2014],” he said. “[The Office of Enrollment said] ‘Based on our numbers now, this is what we can expect our numbers to be plus or minus a few percent.’ But not anywhere near 20 percent. Twenty percent is a catastrophic error; 550 is what we ended up getting, which is a huge margin of error. Especially when your average class should be 700.”

Stumo stated, however, that the yield rate was what the college had expected.

“The percentage of those who enrolled from the pool of admitted…first year students was 29 percent…exactly as projected,” he said.

Stumo said that the projections for next year’s enrollment have already begun.

“Our analysis of conversion rates and yield rates continue as we plan for projecting the number of new students in next fall’s class,” he said.

Dukatz would argue that the student body does notice changes in retention and enrollment, both at an organizational level and in daily life on campus. He anticipates changes in the emphasis on Orientation Week, should this downward trend continue.

“I’d say it’s a fairly significant change, but I guess it depends on who you ask,” he said. “We’re more affected by retention than enrollment. If we stabilize around 500 for each class, it could be that we would have to make a harder push in orientation for this idea of retention…there might be more of an emphasis on orientation if we stabilize at a low number.”

According to the college’s website, President Craft referenced these issues and others in his 2015 State of the College address.

“Can we do what we love? Yes, with attention to market and mission together. And yes, by making choices about what to do when with our resources of time and money,” he said. “When the college cabinet and I met with the Board officers and committee chairs last week, we set forth four major moves that must engage campus and board discussion, debate and action this year. I end this talk by setting them before you now:

1. Presentation of a comprehensive funding campaign for Board of Regent approval this September.

2. Clearly establishing Concordia’s institutional and market position, its strategies for enrolling and retaining a talented and diverse undergraduate student body, and its model of price and aid.

3. Review and approval of a five-year strategic budget plan.

4. Establishing a framework for a dynamic model of education and revenue sources that unites the undergraduate core of Concordia with programming for nontraditional learners.”

Editor’s Note: The joint issue of budget and enrollment is a large topic that will be covered in supplemental articles throughout the year. As a paper, we will update you, the readers, as information changes and progresses. This story will manifest again from different perspectives, with our number one goal being accurate education.

Karen Besonen contributed to this story.


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