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How Many Students?

04 Oct Posted by in Academics, Business | Comments Off on How Many Students?
How Many Students?

We’ve just set up a group to ponder, over the next couple of months, how big Mason should get over the next few years, taking into account budget, new program possibilities, demography and so on.

The question is prompted by several factors: we’ve overshot enrollment targets for the past couple of years (though not much this year, and only because of better retention, which is a Good Thing). The state commission on higher education is discussing expanding degrees, and we should have a sense of our stake. And, pretty obviously, we should have a better idea for our own purposes of where we want to head (and our Board is asking, as well).

We could: continue relatively moderate growth; or put the brakes on, which would among other things force decisions about what to cut when we add programs (an exercise unfamiliar to Mason during the past decade); or maybe try to expand more aggressively. (In theory, we could also discuss cutting back but for a variety of reasons this would make little sense.)

We’re trying, in this exercise, to get a better handle on the various components of enrollment (and explain them more clearly to our wider audiences). There’s a big difference between conventional new undergraduate enrollment (which we can control pretty well) and the most decentralized, often entrepreneurial graduate programs. We need to become clearer about retention prospects — trying to improve further as much as possible — but this is not as predictable a category. We have every reason, given state funding patterns, to expand some revenue-enhancing enrollment, such as executive programs (and there can be distance education options in this mix, another important calculation) — but we have not historically stakes out clear enrollment claims here. And there are other contract options — for example, on-site teacher training — which fluctuate quite a bit. We need some overall projections, but we also need to become more comfortable with several different categories and different levels of precision.

It promises to be an interesting discussion — after which we turn to the obvious next questions, about facilities and staffing to match what we want to try to do.