Declining enrollment, cutting programs, what’s next?

From Fall semester of 2013 to Fall semester of 2015, the 16,245 full-time students attended St. Cloud State University dropped nearly 5 percent down to 15,461, according to the university.  That is 784 students fewer.

Tuition for full-time, Minnesota residential students is $16,944, while non-residents pay $24,862 per academic year.  Those are pretty big numbers when you consider the loss of $8.98 million dollars in tuition money for the university. This past August, SCSU was forced to request a flexible hiring freeze due to the now $10 million dollar deficit.

There are several  factors at work here.  More and more students are opting to go to school part-time, many of them finding jobs before finishing school.  SCSU does have a 36 percent transfer rate as well.  MnSCU has been freezing tuition relatively freely since 2010, meaning that much of the renovations made as well as new hires, before 2014, were achieved with little change in tuition.  Now the number of students  enrolled at St. Cloud is losing an average of  4.7 percent of its students per year, dating back to 2010 when the thought of a school like SCSU eventually needing to eliminate six sports programs might’ve seemed unrealistic.  The school will also trim down the football, baseball and wrestling teams, a move that will save about $250,000.

Freezing the tuition has been harmful to SCSU, because some families are comfortable with knowing the tuition rate, which has been among the most affordable higher education facilities in the state, will not rise.  This works out well for schools who don’t have issues with enrollment and it makes city officials look good when they can say that they didn’t raise the tab on higher education.  

Another possible explanation for some of the numbers may be the major influx of Somali immigrants in 2010 (one the most attended years in the history of SCSU).  If that is the case, then the long-term outlook for attendance does not look good.  

According to SCSU’s institutional research page, the African American graduation rate is only 23 percent – that is the number of African American students who will graduate from St. Cloud State University,  and the transfer-out rate is 49 percent.

It is very viable SCSU is feeling some the burn from St. Cloud’s ever deteriorating reputation among immigrants.  If this is true, it will be very difficult to correct the trend of negative enrollment numbers, which it make it difficult to fund future improvements to SCSU.  

Improving student enrollment won’t be easy, if there was an easy fix, it probably would’ve happened by now. Only time will tell what the future holds for SCSU and the city of St. Cloud but it appears as though it is becoming harder and harder to attract students to come to our University. Perhaps the student-friendly price tag is simply not enough anymore.

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