EDITORIAL: Release of Fall 2021 'enrollment update' casts doubt and suspicion

CMU’s Warriner Hall around sunset, Monday, Nov. 8.

Dear Michigan Public Universities,

Here's how you shouldn't release your fall enrollment numbers.

Halfway through the fall semester, send a lengthy email to the campus community. Stress that higher education is an extremely competitive market. Lead with an examination of declining high school populations and the impact of COVID-19 on education. Also, throw in a discussion about the sheer number of options students have for post-secondary education to justify your declining enrollment.

Include the number of new transfer students. Share the percentage increase in international student enrollment. Explain how you just barely missed your freshman recruitment goal. 

Definitely don't include the actual enrollment number for the fall semester. 

Make sure parents and prospective students know nothing about the state of the university they are potentially interested in attending. 

After all, an accurate accounting of our enrollment could affect enrollment.

From, a concerned student newspaper.

The university needs to do better. Much better. 

People whose livelihoods depend on a healthy CMU – faculty, staff, local business owners – deserve the truth about CMU's declining enrollment.  

Central Michigan Life reached out to University Communications multiple times throughout the semester for the Fall 2021 enrollment numbers. We were told the numbers were not ready to be released.  

We finally got our numbers. We received them the same day that President Bob Davies' 2,400-word email was sent out to the campus community.  

After requesting the actual enrollment numbers in a follow-up email to University Communications, according to this year's statistics, there are 11,441 undergraduate and 3,980 graduate students enrolled at CMU. Our residence hall population is about 3,600. 

That's about 11,000 fewer students here today than attended CMU in 2012. It's about 1,700 fewer students at CMU than just last year. 

It's true that undergraduate enrollment is declining nationwide. The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly still has a lingering impact.

Every institution will have bad news to deliver at some point. 

One way to make that worse is to partner bad news with suspicion or distrust. 

What message does it send to prospective students and their parents when they can't get a straight answer on how many people go to school here? Neglecting to include the total enrollment figure in the initial email doesn't inspire trust or faith in this administration.

It makes it appear like we have something to hide. It casts doubt over everything the university says moving forward. 

We all knew it was coming. So why did it take so long for our fall enrollment total to be publicly announced?

Other institutions, such as Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Ferris State released Fall 2021 enrollment numbers in the first few weeks of the semester.

While there's no law demanding we release our numbers before a certain date, why do we let our peer institutions show us up when it comes to transparency and efficiency?

University Communications explained the decision to delay sharing enrollment information was made by the board of trustees in 2017. The board believed releasing the fall enrollment number in January provided a more accurate number. Indeed, some students do enroll in eight-week classes halfway through the fall semester. 

How many students? Since 2018, it's less than 200 students per year added to the "final" count - a statistically insignificant number considering the drastic decline year by year. 

Davies at least pushed the university to release enrollment information for fall during the fall semester. That makes the Nov. 2 "enrollment update" even more disappointing. Why bother sharing enrollment data if you still withhold the number that matters the most?

Enrollment decline is a universal problem for U.S. public universities - and CMU has lost at least 1,000 students a year for the last six years. It's time they own up to it. 

One good thing Davies did share in his email was outlining the "Aggressive steps CMU is taking" in order to try to attract students to the university. 

If this administration can't be transparent about our enrollment problem with its students, alumni, employees and community supporters, why should we believe the university has viable solutions?

Here's one way CMU can do better:

Within the first six weeks of each semester, provide the public an accurate look at enrollment. If you need to adjust that number at the end of the semester for accuracy, nobody would begrudge that. 

Just tell us the truth. It's what a good university does.