Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Numbers Game

For the past few years the actual number of students at UVSC has been something of a mystery. While the school's Institutional Research office keeps enrollment data handy on their website, it is sometimes not up-to-date. Why does the simple task of counting heads give us such a hazy picture? And what could be the reasons behind cooking the books when it comes to enrollment data.

In fact, up until about a week ago the numbers for the Fall 2006 semester were not available on the website. And these were numbers due in mid-September (The precious "3rd week" enrollment numbers). But a check by The Pipeline at the beginning of 2007 revealed that the numbers had not been updated. If you view the source data for the Fall 2006 page you will see that it was last updated on January 10 2007. We can only assume that the numbers for Fall 2006 were finally updated at that time. Keep in mind that these numbers are not the headcount at the end of finals...they represent the headcount for the third week of classes, when people have set their schedules and are attending class.

Now of course data had been released to the public earlier than that. A story in the Des News from this past October said the college had 20,262 students currently enrolled in at least one class. The 3rd week numbers on the website give a different total: 23,305. Where did those 3,043 students come from? We'll get to that in a minute.

The other thing that is interesting about this discrepancy is that the D News story says that UVSC was one of the few schools that actually had enrollments rise over the previous year, claiming that Fall of 2005 saw 19,836 students attending the school. The article even went so far as to say that the school was "relishing" in their 1 percent increase. But this Fall 2005 number of 19,836 is quite a bit different from the numbers posted by Institutional Research office for the same time period. Their third week total for Fall 2005 is 24,487. So instead of an increase in total enrollment from 2005's 19,836 to 2006's 20,262 we see it going from 24,487 in 2005 to 23,305 in 2006. That's an almost 1,200 student decrease. Not a 1 percent increase...a 5 percent decrease!

So why the funny numbers? Well, what makes these equations so messy sometimes is that on occasion it isn't UVSC students they are counting at all. Sometimes the school posts numbers that include the thousands of Utah teens taking concurrent enrollment courses at their local high school, getting UVSC credit for classes taught by your average secondary-ed teacher. (classes that other schools do not recognize as college level coursework and will not use as transfer credits).

Another scary feature of the concurrent enrollment program: These students are not in special classes, they are mixed in with students who are taking the same course just not for UVSC credit.

Most of the classes are taught on high school campuses by high school teachers who must have a master's degree, Sederburg said. Many are mixed classes, meaning some students are seeking college credit, and others are not. "Right now, the huge percentage of our enrollment is in mixed classes where there are relatively few students taking the course for college credit. In many of those cases, no additional work is being required of the student. We want to move toward the majority of the students taking them for college-level credit and that the teaching is a college-teaching level and not a high-school level." From the Feb 27, 2006 Daily Herald.

So how many of the 24,487 UVSC students in the Fall of 2005 were actually high schoolers getting UVSC credit? Well a Daily Herald story from this past August said that in 2005 there 6,558 students enrolled in the school's concurrent enrollment program. If these teens are indeed counted in the total enrollment numbers, and another Herald article says that is the case (The school claims that the drop from 24,487 to 23,305 as noted above was due to changes in the concurrent enrollment policies), then at least back in 2005 one out of every four UVSC students was actually a high school student.

And these high school students paid a one-time fee of $30 to enroll in the program (it has since been raised to a whopping $35). During 2005 these 6,558 took 46,324 credit hours...meaning on average they took around 7 credit hours each. If you were to take 7 credit hours as a normal student at UVSC it would cost you around $800 (and another $200 in student fees). Do the math and you'll see that UVSC is missing out about 6.5 million dollars, by letting high school kids take their credits at high school. Last year Sederburg asked the legislature to allow UVSC to charge high school students 30 dollars a credit hour. At the time it cost the school about $60 a credit hour and the state was only picking up half of that ($35). That means the 46,324 credit hours attempted in 2005 actually cost the school about $1.5 million. By the way...the state legislature said no to that plan.

So not only does the school miss out on charging these kids full price, but it costs them money to lose this money. No wonder business people look at colleges and scratch their heads.

But of course the most important numbers are the FTEs: The Full-Time Equivalents. This number is reached by combining part time students to equal the hours taken by their full-time peers. It is this number that is used by the state to calculate UVSC's funding. A drop in FTE means less money to go around.

So the FTE numbers should be iron-clad, and they should show that UVSC is increasing enrollment, right? Depends on which numbers you look at. Back in October The Daily Herald ran this story that said that the Fall 2006 FTE number was 13,877, which was a slight raise from 2005's FTE which was 13,739.

Of course the numbers on the Institutional Research site tell quite a different story. Those numbers say that in the Fall of 2005 UVSC had 16,081 FTEs. And this year the school has 15,668 Full-Time Equivalents. That is a difference of -413 or 2.5 percent. Not the growth that has been bragged about in the papers, and certainly not the growth that is being talked about on the hill right now.

Of course The Pipeline admits that the numbers discussed here are only as good as the information provided. If the school has other numbers we would love to see them. If the school would like to share exactly how many high school students are being used to bolster total headcounts, we are all ears.

This much is for sure...The school often throws around that 24,000 number, so often that it is just taken for granted. But the truth is the school has no where near that many students, and it never did. To say otherwise does students, parents, and the state of Utah an injustice. Honesty is the best policy.

No comments: