NDSU President Dean Bresciani Sets The Wrong Priority With Enrollment Target

NDSU President Dean Bresciani made headline news yesterday when he announced that he’d like to see his school’s enrollment hit 18,000 within the next five years.

If it happened, that would be a 24 percent increase in enrollment. Which would be aggressive given that NDSU’s enrollment has only grown 24 percent over the last 13 years. And in recent years, enrollment has been pretty flat and was even down slightly in 2015:

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So Bresciani is calling for something of a moonshot here, and no doubt the additional cost to taxpayers and students (who are already footing the bill for skyrocketing appropriations and tuition to the state’s campuses) will be significant.

But here’s a question: Is this even the right goal? Should we be inflating enrollment numbers, or maybe focusing on serving better the state and the students NDSU already enrolls?

To the former point, consider NDSU now educates far more students from outside of North Dakota than resident students. Which isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but to hit Bresciani’s goal NDSU is almost certainly going to have to recruit even more out of state students than ever before, which means this ratio is going to become even more lopsided:

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We have to ask ourselves, what is NDSU’s purpose? Is it an institution through which North Dakota taxpayers subsidize the educations of kids from other states? Or does NDSU primarily exist to provide a quality, cost effective education to North Dakota students?

And speaking of serving students, NDSU isn’t really doing a great job of it. In 2011, the last year for which data is available from the Chronicle of Higher Education, NDSU graduated just 22.8 percent of first-time, full-time students in four years. The six year graduation rate was 52.6 percent. For context, consider that the national average for on-time graduation from four-year public institutions is over 33 percent, and over 57 percent for six year completions.

graudation rate

And while NDSU has made some modest improvements to graduation rates since 2002, per these numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics, can anyone say that this is satisfactory? That there’s not ample room to do better?

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What’s irksome is that Bresciani no doubt expects to be seen as some sort of a visionary for his call to cram more students onto campus, but is that what we need from our universities today? Bigger enrollments?

It seems to me that attending college has already become something of an entitlement. Pretty much any kid who wants get the higher education experience can get a government-backed loan and enroll somewhere. If anything, our national problems with student loan debt and worrisome academic achievement rates stems from sending too many kids off to college.

Thus, maybe our focus shouldn’t be enrollment. Maybe our focus should be on achievement for the students who do enroll.

This runs contrary to the interests of college bureaucrats like Bresciani, I’m afraid. When your goal is bigger campuses, bigger payrolls, and bigger budgets then yes pushing enrollment higher seems like a nobel target.

But if our goal is having our institutions of higher education serve society by supplying well-educated and career-ready citizens, then enrollment isn’t the metric we should be looking at.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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