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Commentary: Enrollment numbers are the wrong metric by which to measure higher education success

The North Dakota State University campus. Forum file photo

News from North Dakota’s two largest universities – UND in Grand Forks and NDSU in Fargo – is that fall enrollment is down this year.

Based on preliminary numbers, NDSU is seeing a drop of about 700 students while UND’s enrollment has dropped by about 500.

Those might seem like big drops at first blush, and I’m sure there will be some panic in certain circles (more on that in a moment), but let’s get some context. While the enrollment at these schools is diminished, it’s also not outside of historical norms as this chart showing fall enrollment at the two schools going back to 2005 illustrates:

The fall enrollment for both schools is just slightly lower than their averages for all years since 2005. Given that it’s been some tough sledding for the universities in terms of their budgets – they saw a massive (and irresponsible, in this observer’s opinion) build-up of funding during the oil boom years only to see it slashed when commodity prices came back to earth – these enrollment numbers aren’t as bad as they probably could have been.

Really, though, enrollment is a terrible metric by which to measure the health or success of a public university.

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