For several years, I have been calling for a change in leadership at this institution. The recent posts by my colleagues have described the continuing problems with the university’s failing infrastructure and the same old confrontational, ham-handed administrative style we’ve seen for years. My earlier post detailed my concerns over our plunging graduation rate. However, there is a far more compelling reason to renew the call for new personnel at the top of this organization. The utter, catastrophic failure of our administration and its inability to retain students is starkly revealed in the magnitude of our enrollment decline.
Since 2014, I have maintained a spreadsheet on fall enrollments in 211 public universities and 43 colleges and universities belonging to the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund. These 43 schools include 40 schools classified as HBCU’s and 2 other schools classified as PBI’s (Chicago State and CUNY-York). In total, the 254 schools include institutions from 43 states and the District of Columbia. The enrollment data from these institutions tells a clear story.
Nationwide, enrollment at these schools has been remarkably stable. From fall 2010 to fall 2016, the 254 schools gained a grand total of 799 students, maintaining an overall enrollment of just over 2.475 million. The Thurgood Marshall schools have not fared as well. In the same time period, enrollment at these schools declined 11.6 percent, with a total loss of over 27,000 students. HBCU enrollment dropped 11.2 percent.
So how has Chicago State done in comparison? Most of us know about our enrollment declines since 2010, but just how bad are they? In fall 2016, Chicago State’s enrollment was less than one-half of what it had been in 2010, with a decline of 51.4 percent. Our enrollment losses ranked us third in the United States, ahead of only Cheyney University in Pennsylvania and Elizabeth City State in North Carolina.
Of course you say, the state’s budget misadventures are the reason for such a dismal performance. There’s a simple answer to that argument: it’s bullshit. In fall 2013, we had the sixth largest enrollment decline in the U.S., ahead of Cheyney, Elizabeth City, Harris-Stowe in St. Louis, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Troy in Alabama. In fall 2014, our enrollment losses were the fourth largest in the country, leading only Troy, Cheyney, and Elizabeth City State. In fall 2015, we again had the fourth largest enrollment loss in the United States, leading only Troy, Cheyney, and Elizabeth City.
Wait, it gets worse. For fall 2017, although data is not available for most of the schools on my list, I have been able to compile the information for the poorest performing schools on the spreadsheet. We now are the proud owners of the largest percentage enrollment decline in the United States. Our fall 2017 total of 3106 students is a 57.8 percent loss. Cheyney has added students the past two years to pass us at 52.4 percent, with Elizabeth City State also increasing its enrollment to edge ahead of us at 57.3 percent. Just think folks, a university in a city of 2.7 million people has barely over 3100 students and has lost more than 4200 students since 2010. Quite a performance.
A number of poor performing schools stopped their bleeding between 2015 and 2017. They did it by bringing in new leadership at the top of the institution. Elizabeth City State, experiencing many of the problems we are familiar with—“right-sizing” staff reductions, financial aid improprieties, and staff training issues—went through three Chancellors in two years and hired a new Provost in July 2015. This fall, Elizabeth City’s enrollment increased 4 percent from the previous year, the first enrollment increase in 7 years.
At Cheyney University, a familiar face, former CSU President Frank Pogue found himself in a school whose enrollment had plunged from 1586 in 2010 to 711 in 2015. Under Pogue’s leadership, Cheyney increased its enrollment by 6.2 percent between fall 2015 and fall 2017.
The most remarkable turnaround story occurred at Kentucky State University. In fall 2010, that school enrolled 2851 students. By fall 2016, enrollment had dropped by 39.1 percent, to 1736. Over the summer of 2017, Kentucky State replaced almost its entire staff of senior administrators. One of the replacements was our former President, Dr. Thomas Calhoun, whose tenure at CSU was cut short by palace intrigues and the most abominable Board in the country. With a new cast of administrators, Kentucky State grew its enrollment by 532 students for fall 2017, a remarkable increase of 31 percent. Could Dr. Calhoun have done that here? We’ll never know.
In the meantime, Chicago State’s enrollment continues to plunge. This spring, we will experience the 15th consecutive semester of enrollment losses since fall 2010. Despite that, neither our Board nor our President demonstrates any sense of urgency, or an inclination to act. We have the same people doing the same things with, predictably, the same results. There are people at this university with ideas to move the school forward, but they’re consistently thwarted. Personal relationships, not competence, continue to be the coin of the realm. Once again, I must say that down that road lies disaster. How much time do we have? Who knows? How long will the state continue to prop up this institution? Perhaps no one can reverse the death spiral of Chicago State University, but allowing things to continue as they are insures our ultimate demise.