Reading Between the Lines: A Closer Look at ASU’s Fall 2019 Enrollment

BY WATCHING ADAMS STAFF – 10/14/19

After refusing to disclose census date enrollment data as in previous years, Adams State University (ASU) recently released their Fall 2019 enrollment numbers in a document with no comparisons with previous years.

At face value, the report looked promising. Compared to Fall 2018, when ASU’s head count was 1710, ASU reported 1908 students enrolled in courses in Fall 2019.

Graph 1 charts these numbers over time:

Graph 1 Fall Head Count, 2016-2019
Graph 1: Fall Head Count, 2016-2019. Source: ASU Enrollment. Assembled by Watching Adams.

However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that ASU’s miraculous recovery is mainly due to a clever accounting technique. As in previous years, ASU included “undeclared majors” in their total head count:

Spreadsheet1 2016-2019
Spreadsheet 1: Fall Enrollment, 2016-2019. Source: ASU Enrollment. Assembled by Watching Adams.

Compared to full time students, who average 13 credit hours a semester, undeclared majors only take 4.2 credits per semester.

Graph 2 illustrates the growth of non-declared majors at ASU between 2016 and 2019:

Graph 2 Undeclared Majors at ASU, 2016-2019
Graph 2: Undeclared Majors, 2016-2019. Source: ASU Enrollment. Assembled by Watching Adams.

As readers will note, undeclared majors at ASU have gone from 27 students in 2016 to 236 in 2019. Between 2018 and 2019, undeclared majors increased 159%. And from 2016, undeclared majors are up an incredible 774%.

Removing undeclared majors from ASU’s headcount, a more accurate depiction of the institution’s student body emerges.

Graph 3 reports ASU’s headcount without undeclared majors:

Graph 3 ASU Head Count Declared Majors Only, 2016-2019
Graph 3: Declared Majors Only, 2016-2019. Source: ASU Enrollment. Assembled by Watching Adams.

Numbers are down across the last three years but they also appear to be stabilizing. For example, although ASU’s headcount is down by 8% since 2016, declared majors are up 3% from last fall.

This is a particularly promising sign for an institution that has experienced dramatic enrollment drops since peaking at 3033 students in 2011, according to Colorado Dept. of Higher Education data from 2004-2016.

An October 7th enrollment report generated by a current ASU employee from the university’s Banner reporting system reveals somewhat lower numbers than the September 4th data ASU released publicly:

Banner 10-7-19
Spreadsheet 2: Enrollment, October 7, 2019. Source: Ellucian Banner. Assembled by Watching Adams.

It also bears mentioning that there remains a drop in continuing students, with 1010 part time and full time students reported in 2019.  That’s just above the 1002 reported in 2018, but well below the 1084 reported in 2017 and the 1093 students for 2016.  Despite President Lovell’s emphasis on the importance of student retention, ASU does not appear to be doing that with any significant improvement.

INSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES: BEYOND THE NUMBERS

One former ASU employee noted, “What really strikes me about the increase in ‘undeclared students’ is the decrease in number of credit hours students are taking. Because of the population ASU is serving, this decrease is typically in part due to academic unpreparedness, an inability to financially pay for these classes, and/or the inability to maintain even a half-time course load because of all the hours they are working to support themselves and their families.”

The former employee explained, “The President’s message outlined several innovative measures for increasing enrollment. However, the institution continues to fail on how to serve students in their own backyard. That’s where the innovation would really come into play. If ASU is unable to recruit and retain students down the street, how do they plan on recruiting and retaining them from afar? It seems counter-intuitive to devote so much time and so many resources to a population that is not a part of the regional community. They are a public regional institution!”

A current ASU employee reacted to fall enrollment data by stating, “I think the suggestion of ‘513 new students’ in the ASU press release is appallingly misleading. ‘New’ does not equate to ‘additional,’ as the numbers clearly show. Also, counting non-degree seeking (aka: dual enrollment) as if ASU has in some way magically rebounded is grossly dishonest.”

The employee continued, “President Lovell’s contract pays out bonuses for 1) improving morale and 2) improving the budget. Given the state of the latter and how these lies have been spun, has she really accomplished the former?  The significant problem here is: the Board of Trustees is too ignorant to know any better.”

If nothing else, ASU’s fall 2019 head count is likely indicative of a new norm for ASU. Gone are the days of bankrolling capital construction on loans tied to unrealistic enrollment numbers.

A former ASU faculty member concluded, “this doesn’t mean that ASU can’t re-imagine itself as a means of best serving its small but formidable population of first-generation and non-traditional students. The real question facing ASU is whether or not campus leadership is capable of coming up with the innovative programming necessary to best serve the university’s student body.”