1. 420 Days without a contract.
Commentary after the break.
The vacant enrollment position is John Nicklow's old position as Assistant Vice Chancellor of Enrollment (or Director of Enrollment Management--the story listed both titles). Nicklow explained that as enrollment is still Job #1 for him in his new job as provost, and as he had worked to give directors under him more autonomy, this position could be left unfilled for a while. If Nicklow is pulling this off--if our enrollment management is improving despite the unfilled position--then I think the proper response is praise.
The 420 days story probably contains little new to blog readers. Cheng is (indirectly) cited saying that "without widespread unpaid days this year, she is hopeful that contracts for the unions can be signed". Of course this one sentence summary may not reflect her entire thinking on the matter, but this sounds like an effort to argue that the whole brouhaha is about furlough days, which is far from the truth.
I'll say rather more on enrollment. If freshman enrollment is up, that is good news, though of course we need to wait for the ten day numbers to see how we're doing on all the other enrollment fronts, including transfers and returning (or not returning) students.
The Chancellor is fond of translating students into dollars. This raises some questions. I don't mean to imply that she has thought through none of them, or that translating students into dollars might not be a shorthand if crass way of characterizing a major problem we face, only that I haven't heard much in the way of discussion of these larger questions. As it turns out, I'll end up essentially agreeing with the campus consensus that increasing enrollment ought to be a very major priority here, but I hope that by asking these questions I'll further our thinking about why and how it should be a priority. And I want us to get beyond the crasser version of the corporate understanding of things: more is better; students are consumers; we are a business; more consumers make for more profit; more profit is better business.
1. Even if we do, for the moment, treat students solely as sources of revenue, would an increase in enrollment not come with increased expenses as well? As far as I can tell, the Chancellor's math implies that the new students would just happen to find open seats in all the classes they need. But this is obviously not the case. Additional students will require additional sections of speech, math, and freshman comp, among other things. They would need to be served by staff in financial aid, admissions, advising etc. That will require some additional spending. In short, even from a purely financial point of view, extra students (like extra sales) only bring in more money if they increase our profits, not just our revenue. Some fairly large number of additional students would increase our profit (since there is room in many classes, since we presumably have enough classrooms, etc.), but they would not increase profit in a one to one correspondence with increased revenue. Okay, enough of Business 101 (brought to you by an expert classicist).
2. Just what is the right number of students for this university? "More than we have now" won't always be the answer. This can of course be broken down into at least two questions . . .
a. How many students ought we be serving given our current capacity?
"Capacity" is hard to define. By the student-Faculty ratio in the contract (and tentatively agreed to be in the next contract) we are already at our capacity, as there are already roughly 26 FTE students per Faculty member (tenured/tenure-track). That is, unless we are planning on hiring more faculty, we don't need more students (though we'd better not lose any, either).
But I suspect that capacity should probably be measured otherwise, perhaps by our mix of programs and majors--many of which are working below the critical mass of faculty they need to flourish. That is, we may well offer the same number of programs as we did when our enrollment was rather higher. (If anything, given academic mission creep, we are probably offering more programs than we did when our enrollment was at its peak.) Assuming that we were well and efficiently staffed back then (unlikely--but we probably were not radically overstaffed), our enrollment needs to grow--as do our faculty numbers--in order to support our mix of programs.
The alternative to an increase in enrollment would be painful: elimination of programs, which brings consequences none of us want to face. As the head of one of the smallest programs on campus (Classics), I of course am acutely aware of the possibility of program elimination.
b. How many students, ideally, should a university with our mission, our geographical location, and our competition, reasonably expect to serve?
This is a tough one, and I've gone on too long already. But presumably our history is one guide, and this brings us to more or less the same "answer" I came to above.
To conclude. Raising enrollment should not be our only goal. One way students aren't consumers is that we haven't fulfilled our mission simply by selling them credit hours, or even selling them degrees. That's a definition of a degree mill. Amidst all the talk about recruiting and retaining students we had better not lose sight of educating students.
It was interesting that in the story about freshmen enrollment, the freshmen interviewed all mentioned not marketing but hearing of others' positive experiences at SIUC as the most powerful factor in their decision to come to SIUC. I would like to think that "positive experiences" boil down, essentially, to quality education--though of course no doubt fun & friendship and other things also factor into students' positive views about SIUC. But if quality education is the key, the best way to increase our enrollment is to provide a quality education.