News / University

Editorial: Other state universities are flourishing; what’s wrong with us?

Expectations collided with reality Thursday as official enrollment figures were released by the university.

On-campus and Global Campus student enrollment is down 2.9 percent from last year, to 26,902 students. On-campus undergraduate enrollment is down 4.9 percent, and on-campus new freshman enrollment is down 11.4 percent, or about 300 students.

Central Michigan University has continually pointed to decreased high school class sizes as the genesis of the enrollment decline. But, with universities around the state reporting increased, if not record-breaking enrollments – it begs the question if the university is focusing on the appropriate problems to find the best solutions.

According to a news release issued by Eastern Michigan University, a record-breaking 5,076  freshman have enrolled in the university, the most in their 164-year history. Similarly, Grand Valley State University and Hope College issued news releases announcing their largest freshman enrollment for a second year in a row.

Ferris State University announced a 19-year high for enrollment at their Big Rapids campus in a news release. Western Michigan University reports an increase in freshman enrollment for the first time in three years. Oakland University is projected to hit the 20,000-student mark for the first time ever.

Clearly, prospective students, however decreased in number, are choosing to go elsewhere.

According to University President George Ross, Steven Johnson, vice president of enrollment and student services, serves a position “critical to the university as we address the declining number of high school graduates.”

Perhaps Johnson said it best in an October CM Life article:

“Students are smart consumers, and they’re looking more for academic programs that can mold to their personalities,” he said. “I would ask not to abandon traditional learning, but to enhance it to fit a consumer campus.”

Is the university standing by Johnson’s request?

In preparation for the decline in enrollment, the university faces an $18-million budget deficit this year. To compensate, the College of Humanities and Social and Behavorial Sciences and the College of Communications and Fine Arts saw a combined $3 million budget deficit and CHSBS cut at least 32 fixed-term faculty.

Similarly, The College of Education and Human Services saw a $1 million budget reduction compared to last year.

As further atonement for decreased enrollment, CMU reduced occupancy in the Towers residential halls of Kulhavi, Campbell, Kesseler, Cobb, Troutman, Wheeler and Carey from four to three and completely vacated the top floor of Robinson Hall.

While these reductions are largely reflective of the smaller freshman class, it’s important that Johnson, Ross and CMU as a whole realize the issue is clearly beyond smaller high school class sizes.

Specific departments might be seeing growth, but the university as a whole is struggling. Colleges are under-budgeted, residence halls remain empty, and tuition continues to increase. Meanwhile, university officials clamor for excuses while other colleges in the state excel.

The longer it takes to accept the broader scope of the problem, the longer it will take to realize a solution.


  1. Simple. Central had the “Central Promise” that it broke. They raised tuition to make CMU the 4th most expensive public university in the State. I’m sure to fund the medical school. Pretty simple – they are pricing the university out of existence.

  2. All true…but I think there are more relevant questions/concerns that need to be answered: What do we want the University to look like? Do we need to grow every year? What is the appropriate class size? What can our existing resources (labs, classrooms, residence halls, faculty, scholarships, money) accommodate? Until we have answers to these questions, we can’t begin to say whether this decline is such a big deal. Yes…it is huge to people who have lost jobs…but what is the plan for the University to strategically place ourselves where we need to be for the future. President Ross and the Board of Trustees need to answer that question.

  3. Just 3 years ago headlines boasted of CMU’s “record enrollment” and rising demand from applicants. Being in the media and marketing field nationally we get to see a lot of head-work as regards winning market share. Put most simply, “a brand is a promise, based on an experience, locked in a relationship.”

    Let’s review:

    (1)Since 2010 CMU Football, once on a national rise has plummeted to obscurity. Trite? Superficial? Perhaps. But as the legendary University of Texas athletic director Daryl Royal once quipped, “Football is your front porch. If people (student prospects)come and visit, they’re more likely to come on in the house.”

    (2) The huge negative publicity of CMU’s hierarchy getting “no-confidence” votes is hardly comforting to prospective parents. In fact institutional infighting is the kiss of death. The press loves it, partisans slink away.

    (3) From the President to the Athletic Director, executive under-performance reverberates through students and high schools across Michigan. The last 3 years have not been a halcyon era for the university.

    (4) The disastrous marketing implosion that included a website that was art-for-art’s sake was a complete turn off to alumni and prospective students; about as compelling as Beirut.

    Brand cognition decline is seldom based on a singular cause; instead an absence of vision, leadership, and institutional swagger. CMU is a highly marketable brand. It’s time to turn the page.

  4. Derek van der Merwe says:

    In the last three years, I have spoke to senior officials at about 30 different collegiate institutions around the country about enrollment. Everyone is challenged with an enrollment decline trend in an ever changing higher educational market. A few examples of upticks does not negate a national trend that is impacting more than just the mid-west. Do the research! I assure you CMU is still great, great institution. Are there challenges? Yes! But, CMU has always had a culture of excellence and fighting for success. The culture of excellence is not defined by what appears in CM-Life every week. This culture is defined by a great campus community and great people (faculty & staff) who are focused on working together to to make CMU a leader in education in the State of Michigan. There is no warning bell and there is nothing wrong with CMU!!! Don’t buy into the negativity of the few that are sitting at the end of the bench. We are only down a couple of points at the end of the first quarter, there is a whole game ahead of us. The victory will be won by those great Chippewas who never quit fighting in the arena. And, I trust these great CMU faculty and staff who make CMU great every day. I always will! They are strong and proud and made me the person I am today. Proud Maroon and Gold Alum!

  5. Our university suffers from a profound lack of effective leadership on every administrative level–which is shocking given how insanely much money we spend on professional bureaucrats to run CMU. It is *THEIR* job to develop inventive paths the university can follow to success, however they simply don’t seem able to do just that.

  6. michmediaperson says:

    Vince, Hmmm, Admiral, Anonymous, you are all correct. Great posts.

    CM LIFE, great editorial. Maybe, the best ever.

    The Board of Trustees, George Ross and his staff don’t want any input from the alums how to get CMU out of this declining enrollment mess. Always excuses. The solution is pretty easy. But, they don’t want to hear from us. Plus, I don’t think anyone in Warriner Hall understands marketing, sales, PR and advertising.

    It will get worse before it gets better. We’re not down a few points in the first quarter like Derek claims. We are getting our clock cleaned by Oakland, GVSU, Ferris and Eastern Michigan. And, Oakland and GVSU keep getting better. It’s incredible how their enrollments have grown since the 1970s. George, I think it’s EMU that put its SWOT Analysis on the website. Read it please!

    CMU was once the best undergraduate public university in the nation. Anspach, Foust, Boyd, Abel and Plachta and the faculty and staff back then built a phenomenal university. We had little staff and great faculty who loved to teach and be around young people.

    When Rao arrived, it went downhill. Great undergraduate faculty-student relationships and preparation for student’s careers were replaced with medical schools, PCism, multiculturalism and research. Take the faculty away from students and put them in Timbucktoo doing worthless research and papers. Ross has continued the Rao gameplan.

    Thus, this outstanding CMU editorial.

    Derek, we’re not being negative but we’re in the real world. It’s amazing how much money CMU students have to pay in tuition and fees to cover the huge deficits in our athletic department. I’m surprised CM LIFE has never tackled this issue. If you take the annual deficit and how much money 17,000 students have to pay to cover it, I’ll bet it’s 3-4 times the cost UM and MSU students pay in student football and basketball tickets. CMU students can’t keep increasing their debt loads.

    We’re paying George Ross and his staff huge salaries (bigger than what they would get in the private sector these days). We don’t need lower birth rate excuses. Oakland, GVSU, EMU are working harder, smarter and making it happen. If we can’t get it done, then we need to make personnel changes and get the Oakland and GVSU administrators and staff up here.

    Let’s see what quarterback George Ross does in the second quarter. He, his staff and faculty got their bell rung in the first quarter.

    I hope CM LIFE keeps the heat up and not write PR stories blaming lower high school enrollments for the problem. That’s excuses by people not getting the job done in Warriner Hall.

    I know why CMU is getting its bell rung and how to solve the problem. Let’s see if George and his staff can figure it out.

  7. Florence Schneider says:

    The irresponsible faculty strike and “no-confidence” vote was a killer.

    Who wants to spend $ on a school where neither the faculty or administration put the needs of their students first?

    There are other choices for outstanding higher education in Michigan. CMU leadership, faculty and staff need to recognize that or CMU will no longer exist.

  8. Vincent Cavataio says:

    I would consider framing your argument around a lack of consistent marketing. There seems to be a disconnect from higher administration about CMU’s indentity. CMU has been using kitschy marketing in recent years. Instead of telling prospective students and parents what makes CMU different, UComm is making the “Discover Central, Discover you” claim. Why market yourself on a claim that prospective students expect from EVERY institution. We all know that college is where you “discover yourself.” It’s time to commit to an identity and make a bold move forward.

  9. Derek van der Merwe says:

    Anonymous #1, Anonymous #2, Anonymous #3, Editorial Board…. Nameless people with plenty of opinions on what is wrong. Let’s start working as a group of people that care about CMU and want it succeed. Always room for improvement! Much like Washington today, it is easier to just throw mud around and see what sticks. I will put my name with the list of proud alum who will work relentlessly to help CMU succeed.

    • michmediaperson says:

      Derek, you can’t put your real name on anything these days or Liberals will retaliate. If Washington knows you are Tea Party or a Rush Limbaugh fan, then the Democrats will send the IRS after you and audit you. If you’re a Limbaugh or Fox News fan, you know Lerner and those other Obama thugs in the IRS are going after anyone boasting to be anti-Obama.

      At MSU last week, a MSU tenured professor went after any student who was a Christian, an athlete or a conservative. The college student who shot the undercover video of the liberal ranting socialist professor told Bill O’Reilly he has to write papers with a liberal slant or face a lower grade. I don’t recall you ever blasting CMU when you were here of all the liberal speakers they bring in.

      On a liberal campus, you have to remain anonymous or face consequences. It’s happened to me and ask all those MSU students. You ever read Conservatives on campuses have to remain in the closet.

      Liberal administrators, staff and professors are very thin skinned. Especially, the former president here.

      Good luck at Austin Peay. I ran across an old media guide yesterday when you played here. I was impressed to read your bio, heroes and hobbies.

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