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.

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