As we start another school year, it is obvious that we are experiencing another disastrous decline in our student population. It is also obvious that none of the persons tasked with addressing this problem are going to be able to do that. At last Friday’s board meeting, Cheri Sidney had to deliver the bad news to Chicago State’s oblivious trustees that enrollment at the university had decreased nearly 10 percent. While Sidney’s pathetic effort to spin the reasons for the continuing avalanche of bad enrollment numbers may have satisfied the board members, it also underscored the utter incompetence of the Watson administration and its complete lack of understanding of how universities work.
Before getting into Sidney’s remarks, some background information is useful. This year, Enrollment Management (read the Watson administration) established an arbitrary goal of 5872 students for Chicago State’s Fall 2014 enrollment. The administration arrived at that figure by a very simple method: it multiplied the Fall 2013 enrollment of 5701 by 3 percent. Additionally, the administration also apparently decided that each department should increase its enrollment by the same 3 percent figure. I do not remember any communication to our department about this expected increase, does anyone else?
As someone who has acquired a rudimentary acquaintance with social science methods, I question what data the university used to arrive at that particular goal? There are a number of possibilities: historical quantitative data and qualitative trend data spring immediately to mind. Some examples of the kind of data used by university enrollment management operations are available in a publication called Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly. An article in its inaugural issue (April 4, 2013) written by Donald Hossler and David Kalsbeek describe the charge of enrollment management sections thusly:
At its core, enrollment management uses a wide range of applied social science research methods and models of strategic planning and analysis to achieve its enrollment goals. This includes research that measures an institution's competitive market position relative to other institutions, that assesses how a campus is perceived by prospective students, that explores why students do or do not matriculate, and that seeks to understand why and how students progress to graduation, drop out, or transfer.
Of course, the Enrollment Management “team” apparently does not have anyone familiar with “social science research methods.” To the best of my knowledge, there is no systematic data collection or analysis for most of the components of what should be the “core” tasks of a viable enrollment management section. How many of the questions emanating from the above sub-parts are our enrollment management specialists able to answer? Not many, judging by Sidney’s recent performance in front of the board.
Instead, Sidney relied upon stale talking points to again pull the wool over the eyes of our board members. Here are her remarks of September 19, 2014 (they begin around the 57 minute mark of the first recorded segment):
"Chicago State University is still in the mold (mode?) of right-sizing our enrollment from a decade-plus of enrollment data integrity challenges, policy and procedure standards that were not conducted or executed properly and new federal aid changes to financial aid that had a disparate impact to students that attend HBCU’s and PBI’s. The university’s overall enrollment for Fall ’14 is, our goal was for Fall ’14 was 5872 students. As of 9-18, the university’s enrollment is 5196 students, which reflects a 9 percent decline, or 505 students. There are some external and internal challenges that we have dealt with, as it relates to our enrollment. Some of the external factors include: the changes within the Department of Education over the last four years which have reduced or eliminated funding, creating a financial hardship for some of our students. The university has proactively tried to address some of these challenges and one of the things that we’ve implemented is what we call the Educational Assistance Fund .. . (which) specifically targets students who have been impacted by some of those financial aid challenges, as it relates to exhausting their federal financial aid."
"Some of the internal factors that affect our enrollment are our own policies and procedures. These are policies and procedures that we continue to review and address as we align our strategic goals of enrollment with serving the students and adhering to the university standards. For example: the university has a drop process. Students who have not been able to make a payment for the current term, those students are dropped until they can make a payment. This year or this term alone, we dropped 618 students, 259 of those students are not reinstated as of this date. We also adhere to our academic standard policies. And again, this is something that as of two years ago was not happening. . . . This year we dropped 224 students, were dropped for academic standing, of which 191 were not reinstated."
This is a list that could have come directly from the lips of Wayne Watson: Starting out with the hackneyed and meaningless “right-sizing,” Sidney progresses through a litany of exculpatory comments about the problems of previous administrations and concludes with Watson’s nonsensical “raising standards” argument.
Angela Henderson then chimes in with ridiculous comments. Ignoring the fact that the budget sub-unit responsible for raising retention and graduation rates (sub-unit 434) resided in Enrollment Management until the most recent (Fiscal 2015) iteration of the budget when it appears under Academic Affairs, Henderson says “Retention is not Enrollment Management”! She then apportions blame for retention problems among the Deans, Chairs, Program Directors and Faculty and reminds the board “We have metrics and we have goals, and some programs met their goals, and some programs did not.” (Henderson’s remarks begin around 8:45 of the recording, part 2)
Of course, the goals to which Henderson refers are the administration-mandated 3 percent increases across the board. Obviously, retaining students is the key to avoiding enrollment losses. Let us interrogate the data in support of the administration’s 3 percent increase edict.
1. Since there is apparently little or no data available as to why students leave the university, blaming the academic side is pure speculation. In fact, since no one in the administration has a clue how universities work, perhaps a brief explanation is in order. As far as students who are dismissed for poor scholarship, if you admit students who are not ready to do university-level work, the university faculty will fail them. They will then have to be dismissed for poor scholarship. Because the Chicago State faculty actually believe in academic standards, that is what happens to a fair number of students. It is even possible that some students leave the university because they are dissatisfied with the treatment they receive from the administrative offices. Again, this is speculation since there is no data from which one may draw conclusions.
2. There is no earthly reason to expect any administration headed by Wayne Watson to achieve a 3 percent increase in enrollment. A simple review of his “leadership” history makes that assertion clear.
• Fall 2001: Watson at City Colleges, decrease of 688 students from Fall 2000 (.6 percent).
• Fall 2002: decrease of 645 students from Fall 2001 (.5 percent)
• Fall 2003: decrease of 1655 students from Fall 2002 (1.4 percent)
• Fall 2004: decrease of 3875 students from Fall 2003 (3.2 percent)
• Fall 2005: decrease of 7107 students from Fall 2004 (6.1 percent)
• Fall 2006: decrease of 10,416 students from Fall 2005 (9.6 percent)
• Fall 2007: decrease of 3053 students from Fall 2006 (3.2 percent)
• Fall 2008: increase of 83 students from Fall 2007 (.09 percent)
• Fall 2010: Watson at Chicago State, increase of 127 students from Fall 2009 (1.8 percent)
• Fall 2011: decrease of 480 students from Fall 2010 (6.5 percent)
• Fall 2012: decrease of 775 students from Fall 2011 (11.3 percent)
• Fall 2013: decrease of 406 students from Fall 2012 (6.4 percent)
• Fall 2014: decrease of 493 students from Fall 2013 (8.6 percent)
Watson’s last 8 years at City Colleges resulted in a net loss of 27,356 students from 2001 to 2008. At Chicago State, Watson’s 5 years have seen a net loss of 2027 students from 2010 to 2014. Thus, Watson’s two administrations have seen 29,383 students leave his two institutions/systems in 13 years. Based on this historical quantitative date, it is impossible to imagine any scenario in which a Watson administration would be able to affect a 3 percent increase in enrollment.
Given the available empirical data, it seems fair to argue that the major problem with Chicago State lies at the feet of Wayne Watson and his crony-riven administration. To be fair, the people in Enrollment Management are hamstrung by the fact that in order to truly address the enrollment issues plaguing the school, they will have to devise a strategy that mitigates the negative effects of a Wayne Watson presidency. In the meantime, here's the administration's strategy: 1) as always, take no responsibility for anything. Blame the Federal Government, previous administrations, new, tougher (albeit non-existent) standards for the enrollment declines; 2) if that is insufficient to deflect the blame, set arbitrary and demonstrably unattainable enrollment goals with no faculty input or buy-in; 3) when, as should be expected by any reasonable person, departments don't reach their goals, put the blame for enrollment declines on them.
Based on the most current available data, the enrollment at Chicago State stands at 5208, or a loss of 493 students (8.6 percent) from Fall 2013. This catastrophic decline in the university’s enrollment threatens its existence. While the board extolls Watson’s vision and affirms its support for this failed presidency, the school limps along suffering increasing wounds.
In the next few days, I will have additional comments on the enrollment situation as well as the new budget. In the meantime, I renew my insistence that Wayne Watson resign his position immediately or that the board take steps to remove him. Before his “reforms” destroy this school.