Below is a communication sent to faculty and staff summarizing how the enrollment issues the university faced in Spring 2012 were successfully addressed and providing an update on plans to avoid similar issues in academic year 2012-13.
Over the last several weeks there has been no shortage of inquiries about the rocky start to this Spring’s enrollment. As we promised we would do as soon as fourth week registration ended, here is an explanation of the enrollment issues we faced in Spring 2012, a summary of how those issues were successfully addressed and an update on plans for avoiding, to the extent possible, the same problems in AY 2012-13.
As some of you know, the California State University (CSU) receives a substantial portion of its funding through the State General Fund. The primary basis for that funding is a measurement called “Full-Time Equivalent Students” (FTES), with one FTES equivalent to 15 units. The Chancellor’s Office (CO) annually determines the number of FTES to be allocated to each campus and sets a range of tolerance for enrollment levels below or above the campus targets. Campuses do not receive FTES funding and are not permitted to keep tuition fees for enrollment above the established range. Some refer to this loss of revenues as a “penalty” or “fine.”
Our Spring 2012 enrollment challenges have their roots in AY 2010-11. In late Fall 2010, after having allocated 2010-11 campus budgets, the Chancellor’s Office received additional state funds to respond to mounting enrollment demand from community college transfer students. However, funding and authorization for the CSU to enroll an additional 8,000 new students in Spring 2011 (bringing enrollment statewide from 331,000 to 339,000 students) came well after Spring admissions closed on most campuses. Although many of our sister campuses were not able to accommodate additional students, CSUN was able to help the system reach the new enrollment goal by adding First Time Transfer (FTT) students. Doing so allowed our University to increase enrollment access to the people of our region.
Unfortunately, when targets for AY 2011-12 were allocated, FTES assigned to CSUN were not increased or adjusted to account for the additional transfer students admitted in Spring 2011, leaving us with the dilemma of having admitted more students to achieve the system goal, but of not having an authorized FTES level to support their continued enrollment.
There were several other factors contributing to the misalignment between CSUN’s authorized FTES and its actual enrollment:
While freshman admissions were up at most CSU campuses, our First Time Freshman class for Fall 2011 was an extraordinary 5,200—topping all expectations. This large number of new freshmen combined with a change in behavior of our continuing students to drive up FTES:
The result was an attained Fall 2011 FTES of more than 107 percent of our assigned target. Projecting Spring 2012 enrollment demonstrated clearly that our annualized enrollment would be well above the leeway of plus or minus three percent the CO was granting campuses.
Following several conversations with the CO, it became clear in November and December 2011 that we would not be permitted to retain tuition-fees above 103 percent of our FTES target, the “fine” or “penalty” mentioned in the last several months. Assuming annualized FTES at 107-108 percent, estimates were that the campus could lose $7-$8 million.
One choice we might have made was to accept the fine, pay it and move on. We seriously considered this option. However, with the need to absorb our share of the $100 million cut to the CSU for 2011-12 and the likelihood of another $200 million cut in General Funds support for 2012-13, CSUN could not forego significant tuition-fee revenue that could be needed to cushion the impact of these cuts.
The only alternative was to decrease FTES in Spring. To accomplish this, the enrollment cap was lowered in many classes, decreasing the number of available seats. Other classes were cancelled. However, enrollment levels on the first day of classes clearly indicated that these controls were not sufficient; the campus was headed toward exceeding the FTES target significantly. Needing to act quickly, we further restricted enrollment on the second day of the Spring semester, asking deans to work with their departments to prevent any more students from adding classes unless they were graduating seniors or special cases. While this worked, the abruptness of this change left too many underserved and unserved students who traditionally relied on adding classes during the first few weeks. Department personnel and faculty were on the receiving end of pleas from students—and their parents. In response, we were able to add a handful of FTES by the end of the first week to help out those most in need.
Thanks to the efforts of academic personnel and faculty, the above actions worked to limit our excess enrollment. As of census on Friday, Feb. 17, our actual FTES for Spring is 102.1 percent of our campus target, making our annual resident FTES 104.4 percent of the target assigned by the CO. While this is still above the assigned target, the loss of tuition-fee revenue will be considerably smaller than initially expected, anticipated between $2.0 and $2.5 million. More importantly, analysis shows that MORE students by number are enrolled in 12 or more units this Spring than in either of the previous two Spring terms and that the percentage of undergraduates enrolled in 12 or more units this Spring is somewhat higher than in Spring 2010.
With the knowledge we have now, we are planning for AY 2012-13 admissions and enrollments that will not cause the same problems, even though our assigned FTES target is flat, i.e., the same as this year’s but with a plus five percent leeway, instead of this year’s three percent.
We wish we could guarantee that similar problems will not happen in the future. However, as Cal State Northridge continues to adjust to increased student demand and decreased state support for higher education, we anticipate that we will continue to experience challenges balancing needs with demands. With your help and support we learn from each new iteration how to best support our mission of maintaining access while supporting student success and persistence to graduation.
Thank you again for helping the University and our students navigate the path set by the funding challenges we face. As always, we welcome your ideas and suggestions.