Tuesday, September 6, 2011

SIUC Enrollment Falls 1.1%

Most of you will have received an email from the Chancellor (pasted in full after the break), saying that she is "pleased to share with you a news release highlighting some positive news about our enrollment here at the our University". The email itself does not outline the positive news. Why not? Because the news is not, in fact, very good, and the Chancellor would prefer to have the spin in a news release, rather than in her own voice. Clever of her.

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).

2001 21598
2002 21873
2003 21387
2004 21589
2005 21441
2006 21003
2007 20983
2008 20673
2009 20350
2010 20037
2011 19817

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.


Rita Cheng


  1. Twisting facts, providing information which does not make sense, keep repeating the same misinformation again and again, is the way this administration is working. After all the “so called’ great things Nicklow did with enrollment management, enrollment is still down. Wonder why; because incompetent people are leading this university. Cheng promoted Nicklow for failed performance (on top of poor record) and gave him $80,000 per year raise. Cheng took money from faculty and staff and paid $1.5M to external firm for increasing enrollment but got a lousy logo and decrease in enrollment in return. With all the changes they are implementing unilaterally, they are going to mess-up so much that it will take us a decade to clean-up the mess after they leave.

    Did you notice a change on the BOT meeting agenda? Previous salaries of SIUC administrators and percent increase in salaries are not on the agenda any more. Is this intentional? I think so. I believe after the BOT questioned Nicklow’s raise during the last meeting, someone decided not to show the increase on the agenda.

  2. I agree almost entirely with anonymous from 11:25 other than to point out in all fairness that the marketing contract with LH would have 0 impact on this year's enrollment as it wasn't in place in time to recruit. Next year we will see the impact there.

    In reality, LH will probably increase Freshman enrollment however with a phony message it won't be long until these same Freshman see what is really going on and move on. Currently the enrollment push seems to be to enroll as many freshman as possible so that even when large numbers of them leave total enrollment will still be up. There is zero effort in all this, other than lip-service, being paid to retention.

  3. Yes, after being here a year or so students see the light and go elsewhere after seeing throigh "Potemkin village" marketing. With 80% of books still not in the Morris Library, cutbacks, a demoralized faculty and staff, is it any wonder that they are leaving. The administration with its emphasis on sports is totally to blame.

  4. Dear Anon 8:14 AM:
    LH has been working with SIUC administration for almost a year.

  5. Does anyone know why grad enrollment fell? Which programs are down? Did we cut back on assistantships? Where applications down?

  6. Universities make money on freshman because the class sizes are large or they are taught but TAs or low paid NTT faculty. Juniors and seniors are money losers. So, there is a sick incentive to bring in freshman who will never make it.


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