Tough times for education

The universities in Minnesota are divided into multiple teams. My university is part of the University of Minnesota system, which has 5 campuses — it’s the smaller subsystem, but it’s also older and wealthier, founded before Minnesota had statehood, and it’s a little bit more independent for that reason. The real giant in this state is MnSCU, the Minnesota State College and University system, which is made up of 30 colleges and 7 universities. These campuses were explicitly set up by the state to provide educational opportunities to all of its citizens. Then there are all the private colleges, about which I’ll say no more.

They’re all good institutions, operating in parallel. My oldest son attended a MnSCU college, St Cloud State University (SCSU), the middle child went to school in Wisconsin, and my youngest went to a UM school right here at UMM, so we aren’t snobs about which system is better. Unfortunately, they’re all suffering right now, with painful declines in enrollment. SCSU has been hit hard.

The student headcount at St. Cloud State has dropped from more than 18,000 in 2010 to about 10,000 last fall. But not only are the numbers dropping, the students are changing: Nearly 50% of students are part-time, about 25% are under 18 and enrolled in postsecondary classes, and about 10% are 35 and older.

There are also fewer traditional students — recent high school graduates looking for a four-year degree — than in previous decades because of declining birthrates beginning in the 1990s, changes in perception around the importance of undergraduate degrees, and more education options such as for-profit and online colleges.

Yikes. SCSU is about 10 times the size of UMM, and while we’ve suffered substantial enrollment declines, I think that SCSU has been proportionally hit even harder. Their solution: put major programs on the chopping block.

St. Cloud State University will phase out six majors and cut three dozen jobs in the wake of a looming $18.3 million deficit projected for the upcoming school year, according to leaders at the central Minnesota school.

The majors to be phased out are philosophy, theater, nuclear medicine technology, real estate and insurance at the undergraduate level, as well as marriage and family therapy at the graduate level.

23 faculty and 14 staff are being laid off! I’m feeling the pain from here, a hundred miles away. My U hasn’t done anything quite that drastic, at least not yet, but we have been letting natural attrition of faculty take its course and avoiding some important replacement hires, but that has still caused serious difficulties. We haven’t been firing people or killing majors programs, but when staffing withers away and your department has one professor left, you’ve de facto closed off a major. You’re also going to exhaust that one overworked professor, who is going to be looking for jobs elsewhere.

These are terrifying times in academia. Enrollment dropping, the pandemic was a major strike, and then, of course, Republicans whining about ‘woke’ colleges. One of the things that has made Minnesota a great place to live is an outstanding educational system — let’s not throw that away.


  1. Michael says

    I wonder how many administrators are getting laid off? They probably had to hire more to determine which departments to cut. Or maybe they created a new department, “the office of downsizing managment” (that name is too transparent, it would probably be something like “office of efficiency enhancement”).

  2. raven says

    We aren’t really seeing those college student enrollment declines on the West Coast.

    University of California behind schedule in growing enrollment of in-state students
    Newsom expects those numbers to grow next year, still plans to give UC 5% funding increase

    In fact, UC estimates that enrollment of in-state students will be down slightly in the current 2022-23 academic year compared with last year.
    “UC has a massive demand and supply imbalance. In other words, we turn away qualified Californians in record numbers.
    By the time the agreement with Newsom expires in 2027, UC maintains that it will have added about 14,000 more California undergraduates.

    The California University system is so large and spread out that it is hard to make an overall generalization.

    In general, enrollment numbers took a hit during the pandemic. They are slowly bouncing back though and the state expects enrollments to grow in the coming years. They even increased the University budgets by 5%.

    The California universities have far more applicants than they accept,
    “UC has a massive demand and supply imbalance. In other words, we turn away qualified Californians in record numbers.”

  3. raven says

    In a lot of places, college enrollments are flat, struggling, or in the case of Minnesota, even declining.

    I’m sure one main reason why is the amazing price increases for a college degree over the last few decades. It is clear that universities are pricing themselves out of their main market, people who aren’t very wealthy.

    When I went to a good state school in the 1970’s, my heavily subsidized tuition was something like $600 a year. I graduated debt free and completely broke. This was common at the time.

    It is now $14,000 and they raise it a lot every year. People routinely graduate with tens of thousands in student debt.
    They estimate that a 4 year degree will end up costing $120,000!!!
    Cthulhu, this shocks me even though it has been something in the making for decades.

  4. wzrd1 says

    There are also fewer traditional students — recent high school graduates looking for a four-year degree — than in previous decades because of declining birthrates beginning in the 1990s…

    There is the crux of it. Add in unwillingness to mortgage an uncertain future, where most jobs were transplanted overseas, you’ve a perfect storm.
    Meanwhile, whenever there’s an intergenerational birthrate gap, we close schools. In the mid to late ’70’s, primary schools went up for sale. Then, a decade or so later, new school properties had to be purchased and schools built for the spike in population. Population was never a smooth curve, it spikes and drops as generations reproduce, then a new generation has to do that whole maturing thing before reproducing. That’s true for protozoa, it’s true for colonial organisms, it’s true for complex organisms like mammals.
    In 1978, I was in high school and electronics school on my own dime. Mid-year, the electronics school relocated from its Upper Darby digs to Newtown Square, to a closed and sold off elementary school. It was a bit entertaining to see our instructors stooping to use the primary school height blackboards and kluges needed to turn an elementary school into an advanced electronics school. Even more so to have microprocessor engineering technology taught in an old geography classroom (one of our fellow students had attended that school when it still was an elementary school).

    So, there’s a dip in enrollment, due to a change in population growth, which somehow surprised everyone, as nobody plots and tracks birthrates. As that last is entirely untrue, that displays a shocking lack of forward looking leadership by all institutions that are now caught flatfooted and utterly unprepared and now dumping staff, programs and even facilities.
    Then, when the next mini-boom strikes and it will, lacking some novel plague killing off our young preferentially, the same idiots will look surprised again and scramble to assemble that which they dismantled and moan over the lack of employees. Not that any will notice or care about the moaning, as the moaning over the loss of employee loyalty went ignored after the tenured employees were betrayed previously. Again.

    But hey, race ya to the bottom! It’s the American way!

  5. raven says

    Enrollment is down in Washington State and up in Oregon.

    So the West coast is slightly rising in California, down in Washington, up in Oregon.

    Seattle Times:

    Enrollment plummets at Washington’s colleges, especially among men
    April 24, 2022 at 6:00 am Updated April 25, 2022 at 6:04 pm


    Register Guard Sept 2022

    University of Oregon breaks freshman enrollment record for second year in a row
    Miranda Cyr
    Similarly, Oregon State University welcomed an increased number of students this school year, which started for them on Sept. 21.

    Preliminary estimates find overall enrollment, including the OSU online Ecampus, to be up about 3.5%, according to district officials. Last year, university-wide enrollment increased by 2.2%. Enrollment at the OSU main campus in Corvallis has an estimated 1% increase from last fall.

  6. says

    I don’t know much about the U of MN system, but I do know that they are a strong proponent of Open Educational Resources, and offer a leading, comprehensive site to assist adoptees:
    Their OER library is large and extensive, and a great place to start for any professor looking to adopt OER materials (texts, lab manuals, videos, etc.).

    I particularly like this quote: “We work together to benefit everyone in higher education.” Of course, that doesn’t necessarily include the traditional publishers who have no shortage of bad things to say about OER, along with the things they don’t say (the resources are free and generally high quality).

  7. raven says

    The tl;dr version.
    College enrollments have been dropping by 8% over the last few years, partly due to the pandemic.

    The drop seems to be slowing down and it may even be over with.
    With one year of data, this isn’t at all for sure though.

    Nationwide, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022,
    with declines even after returning to in-person classes, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The slide in the college-going rate since 2018 is the steepest on record, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.Mar 9, 2023

    American colleges in crisis with enrollment decline … – Fortune › 2023/03/09 › american-skipping-c…


    The U.S. college enrollment drop of the past several years is finally slowing
    February 2, 20235:30 PM ET
    Sequoia Carrillo npr

    New numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse show a years-long decline in college enrollment slowing down. Enrollment of first-year students increased across the board.


    The drop in U.S. college enrollment over the last several years is starting to slow down. That’s according to new numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. NPR’s Sequoia Carrillo reports.

    SEQUOIA CARRILLO, BYLINE: After years of steep decline, undergraduate enrollment in the fall of 2022 dipped by less than one percentage point overall. And in some places, it stayed stable. There was even some good news in the new numbers from the National Student Clearinghouse. Enrollment of first-year students increased across the board.

    DOUG SHAPIRO: It’s very encouraging to start seeing signs of a recovery here, even though there’s still a long way to go before freshman classes return to their 2019 levels.

    CARRILLO: That’s Doug Shapiro, the executive director behind the new report. His team used enrollment data for more than 3,000 higher-ed institutions to track patterns of about 18 million students. One bright spot they found? Community colleges, which were the hardest hit during the first two years of the pandemic, actually saw a tiny bump this semester. That’s buoyed in part by high schoolers who are taking college classes at the same time or are dual enrolled. Pam Kelley is a dual enrollment counselor at Jefferson State Community College in Birmingham, Ala.

    PAM KELLEY: During COVID, when people were off campus, they kind of got used to the online class. So that became an option where, before, the K12 was kind of hesitant to kind of navigate those online waters. But now, they’re just like, hey, we did this. We know how to do this.

    CARRILLO: On the other hand, graduate programs, which saw an increase in enrollment during the pandemic, fell in fall 2022. Researchers told NPR in October it’s because there’s more certainty in the job market, so folks with an undergrad degree are now opting for jobs instead.

    Overall, today’s numbers offer a welcome bright spot. But with so much uncertainty in the economy and over student debt, experts say there’s no guarantee that colleges have turned the corner.

    Sequoia Carrillo, NPR News.

  8. charley says

    The state college and university systems are on a short list of the institutions most important to the future of the country, along with public schools. Republicans are working hard to undermine both.