In order the answer the rather obvious question (is enrollment up or down?) one must read 10 paragraphs into the news release (okay, they are short paragraphs, but still), to find the following concessive clause:
While today’s numbers marked a decline of 1.1 percent in overall enrollment, officials noted it was approximately one-third of last year’s drop and signals the University’s progress in slowing this six-year decline.So we are losing students at a slower rate. I cannot for the life of me figure out how we are losing students at only one-third of the rate of last year, however. Last year we were down 1.5%, this year we are down 1.1%. That's less bad, but not one-third as bad, as the Saluki News says. Getting this all straight is currently tricky, as the numbers in the news release are clearly cherry-picked to emphasize "positive trends". But the overall figures are clear enough from the chart below. Some details after the break.
Here are overall numbers for the last few years (from page 21 of the handy 2010-2011 Factbook, save for the 2011 number, which comes from the press release) These include both on-campus and off-campus students (in 2010, off-campus students accounted for 2041 of the total). These are headcount numbers, not FTE (which are smaller in total, but trend similarly).
So we are now below 20,000. According to the figures quoted in the "Saluki News", the bulk of this year's decline came in graduate students--we enrolled 10.5% fewer new graduate students than last year (about 56 fewer students). That's a rather scary figure. There is good news concerning incoming freshmen (+116; down 136 last year ) and UG transfers (+65; +46 last year). But the best that can be said of continuing undergraduate enrollment (retention) is that things are getting worse less slowly (i.e., we had 246 fewer continuing students than last year, but last year had 368 fewer than the year before--though the news release does not clarify whether these are UG or UG and grad combined).
The news release also spins re quality of students. We have more entering students in the University Honors Program, a good thing, but the news release does not say how many more, or whether this increase is due to more aggressive efforts to get qualified students into that program, or to a higher number of qualified students overall. The release notes that our acceptance rate remained unchanged. That too is good news, or at least the absence of bad news, but without further data (ACT scores or high school rank) we can't judge whether the quality of our freshman class changed for better or worse (if the quality of our applicants declined, accepting the same percentage of them would mean the quality of our class declined--and vice versa). I'm glad there is some attention to the quality of our students, not just the quantity of students, but I wish the news were more solid.
The news release also proclaims that freshmen retention remained at at "solid 69 percent" for first year students. So we still lose almost one in three.
The bottom line seems to be that there may have been some improvement in UG recruitment, but that we continue to lose more continuing students each year, and that graduate student recruitment was dismal last year. Our brave new marketing campaign might further help recruitment, at least at the undergraduate level: it will obviously do nothing for retention (though other initiatives are under way there). And it is of course difficult to know how many of the figures touted by the press release (or flagged by me) are meaningful, and how many are simply one year blips.
As a non-statistician layperson the chart helps me the most: at the best we have seen a very slight decline in our downward slope. This no more justifies saying that the Cheng-Nicklow regime is a failure than Poshard's ridiculous claim that the 100 student boost this summer showed that that regime was succeeding. My worry continues to be that any gains due to clever marketing and new schemes for retention will be swamped by low campus morale caused not only by rancorous and over-lengthy contract negotiations (especially should this culminate in a strike), but by the trend a toward heavy-handed top-down management style, like the decision to outsource marketing. This refers not only to the decision to bypass and marginalize campus communications staff, but to the lack of any vigorous attempt to get the campus community as a whole to participate in deciding what "our story" is (marketing talk for "our mission"). Logogate is emblematic (fittingly enough) of a wider problem.
Here is the Chancellor's pithy email.
To the University Community:
I am pleased to share with you a news release highlighting some positive news about our enrollment here at our University.
Please follow the link provided here for more information about these exciting developments.
As always, thank you for your continued hard work in supporting these efforts.