From the President, re: Enrollment Trends at Southern

June 24, 2024

Dear Colleagues:

Greetings! Many of you may have read a media report this past weekend regarding “plummeting enrollment” at institutions in the CSCU System. The article does not reflect our current situation at Southern, and therefore I feel that it is important for me to provide some context, particularly given our most recent enrollment trajectory.

The article tracks an enrollment decline at Southern and our sister institutions from 2018 to 2023. And it is certainly true that all our institutions suffered double-digit declines during that period: the result of an ongoing downturn in the population of Connecticut high school scholars that was exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many scholars stepped out entirely from higher education during the pandemic years, not just in Connecticut, but nationwide. And the repercussions are still being felt as an increasing number of high schoolers are questioning the value of a degree and looking to enter the workforce directly after high school.

Despite these trends, however, during the last two years we have seen encouraging indications of recovery at Southern. After stabilizing our numbers by the time of the state Department of Education Census Date in fall 2023 – the census date is usually on the 15th day of the semester – our enrollment was up this past spring and registrations for Fall 2024 are also currently ahead of the previous year’s numbers.  

In addition, we are making gains in credit hours (the total amount of credit hours generated by all scholars enrolled) and FTE or Full Time Equivalent (essentially, all the credit hours generated in a particular semester divided by 15 credits, which is considered the equivalent for full-time enrollment).  Credit hours generated and FTE are most critical in higher education since they present a more accurate picture of an institution’s financial health, for budgeting purposes.   

In detail, by the fall 2023 Census Date, Southern’s enrollment was down less than a percentage point (0.8%) or about 60 students.  However, FTE and credit hours were up by 1.4% and 1.2%, respectively. Through coordinated efforts led by our enrollment management team, we then saw a 6.1% increase in spring 2024 enrollment, coupled with an FTE increase of 5.9% and credit hour increase of 5.7%.

The good news is that we have great momentum going into the fall semester.  As Julie Edstrom, Vice President for Enrollment Management, shared at last week’s SCSU Foundation Board meeting, fall enrollment is currently up by 4.1%; with FTE up by 4.0% and credit hours up by 3.75%.  There are still challenges, specifically a decline in first-year scholar enrollment. This has been impacted by the high school trends I mentioned above, and compounded by the federal FAFSA debacle, which delayed critical financial aid notifications.

However, by diligently following our strategic enrollment management plan— which includes a focus on transfer enrollment and the retention and persistence of currently enrolled scholars—we are still confident that we will realize our fall enrollment target of 5% growth by this September’s Census Day, on Sept. 17.

All of us can play a part in helping to reach our goal by encouraging unenrolled current scholars to continue their path to a degree, and by talking to prospective scholars and their parents about the many positives of a Southern education. Whether at on-campus recruitment events, through follow-up with scholars in your programs, or by reaching out in your home communities, your efforts will help stabilize and grow our enrollment, which is critical to the continued financial health of our institution.

Already, we are moving in a stronger direction thanks to the commitment of the entire Southern family. I thank you and hope you are beating the heat and enjoying a relaxing summer!


Dr. Dwayne Smith
Interim President