EDITORIAL: Release enrollment numbers sooner, not later

CMU should hold itself accountable with enrollment data

Two weeks ago, MLive published a Michigan Association of State Universities report listing the Fall 2018 enrollment numbers for the state's 15 public universities. 

Central Michigan University was the only university with an asterisk by its numbers. 

This asterisk denoted that CMU's Fall 2018 enrollment numbers were only preliminary, and that final numbers would be available after the completion of the semester. 

This year, the enrollment numbers for the Fall 2018 semester were released on Jan. 17. This comes almost three weeks into the new year, and even longer after the end of the fall semester. That's better though than the previous year when Fall 2017 enrollment was announced on Jan. 30.  

Why does the university wait so long to release its enrollment numbers? Why are we the last public university to share our enrollment data?

In Summer 2017, a decision was made by the CMU Board of Trustees to release enrollment data at the end of the fall semester, as opposed to at the beginning. Sherry Knight, associate vice president for University Communications, said one of the reasons for the move away from reporting that number in the fall is because enrollment for Global Campus continues through December.

That makes some sense. So why does it take until mid-January to announce those numbers? 

We ask the university to set a date to release its enrollment each January. By withholding its enrollment numbers, CMU isn't being as transparent as it should be. In fact, it appears to some that the university is trying to bury the release of that data. Students, staff, faculty and community members want to know if the university is experiencing a decline or increase in enrollment. simply an act of holding back from releasing vital information. 

Not only can the university be quicker in releasing the information, but be honest with community and the media about when those numbers will be released. Choose a date in January, and stick to releasing enrollment data on that date. Be honest with the CMU community about when that information will become available. Instead of sitting on those numbers for weeks, let people know when those numbers can be expected annually. 

The university ended up announcing that Fall 2018 enrollment was down 7 percent from the previous year. That's disappointing news, but it's the truth. In the headline of a University Communications press release regarding enrollment data, the university failed to acknowledge the decline until the final paragraph of the press release. The headline read, "CMU’s fall 2018 enrollment shows increasing quality, diversity." Sure, there is other interesting data, but the purpose of the release is to share the enrollment number. 

This follows a similar trend to last year's University Communications press release, when they carefully avoided stating that there was a decline, saying "overall enrollment hit nearly 96 percent of previous year, despite decline in high school seniors." There is "public relations" and then there is misleading people. 

We, and everyone else, understand there is currently an enrollment issue here at CMU. We are aware the numbers are going down. Instead of beating around the bush, the university should declare the issue outright then publicly address ways it is going to fix it.

The university cites a decline in Michigan high school graduates as the reason for the decline. The most recent graduation rates available for Michigan high school students states that about 80 percent of high school students graduated in the 2016-17 academic year, according to data released by the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information. 

This was a 0.53 percent increase from the previous year. While this isn't a drastic increase, it isn't the sole cause for a 7 percent enrollment decrease for a university.

CMU holds its students to high standards. The university should hold itself accountable by releasing enrollment data regularly each year and by being honest and upfront about enrollment challenges. The only thing worse than getting bad news is when you get that bad news and you can tell the people giving it to you aren't being as straightforward and honest as they should be.