Breaking News
More () »

As St. Cloud State cuts 6 majors, enrollment declines loom large statewide

Minnesota has lost more than 100,000 postsecondary students since 2010, and the underlying demographics aren't improving.

MINNEAPOLIS — St. Cloud State is phasing out six major programs and cutting 23 faculty members as it works to address an $18 million deficit.

University leaders cite enrollment declines for the struggles. The number of SCSU students has fallen from 18 thousand in 2011 to 10 thousand last fall.

It mirrors a struggle that's been playing out at colleges and universities statewide for the last decade plus.

Minnesota has lost more than 100 thousand postsecondary students since 2010, and experts say a major underlying issue won't be improving any time soon.

"There is a decline in enrollment that is being driven by the underlying demographics," said Susan Brower, Minnesota State Demographer.

According to the 2020 report Knocking at the College Doorthe national decline in the birthrate is expected to cause the number of high school graduates to peak by about 2025.

"After that, we expect there to be a steady decline of the next 15 years," Brower said. "In the past we've seen growth in that population. We're really expecting to see that taper off."

But it won't impact states equally. According to the report, graduating classes in North Dakota and South Dakota are projected to grow by 34% and 13%, respectively. By contrast, Wisconsin and Illinois face potential 10% and 24% percent declines. Minnesota is projected for a three percent drop. 

Kent Erdahl: "That doesn't sound like a cliff." 

Brower: "Our decline is relatively minor, which is why I'm using the word taper, but of course, demographics isn't the only thing that's determining enrollment numbers."

Brower points to Minnesota's drop in undergraduate enrollment since 2010, which has accelerated since the pandemic. She says it's no coincidence since many industries have increased wages and on-the-job training to combat worker shortages.

"A strong job market tends to create a strong pull for people to move straight into work rather than making that costly investment of time and money to forgo wages for a while while you're doing your training," she said. "I think that context likely has exacerbated some of the enrollment issues that higher-ed is seeing right now."

While the enrollment declines have impacted The University of Minnesota System and private non-profit colleges as well, the drop-off has been greatest across Minnesota state four-year universities like Saint Cloud State.

"That suggests to me that there is something else going on too," Brower said. "Either with the way that they're recruiting or the way that they're aligned with the other needs of potential students."

That's part of the thinking behind SCSU's phase-out of six majors. According to SCSU, 75 percent of undergraduate students are enrolled in just 35 of its 157 programs.

The university will phase out five undergraduate programs: philosophy, theater, nuclear medicine technology, real estate and insurance. It will cut one graduate program: marriage and family therapy. There are roughly 90 students enrolled in those programs now, and they will be able to finish.

Brower says SCSU is likely not the last university to make these tough decisions.

"We have seen fewer students come to Minnesota and more students leaving in recent years, and I don't know exactly what is underlying that," she said.

Watch more Breaking The News:

Watch all of the latest stories from Breaking The News in our YouTube playlist:


Download the free KARE 11+ app for Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV and other smart TV platforms to watch more from KARE 11 anytime! The KARE 11+ app includes live streams of all of KARE 11's newscasts. You'll also find on-demand replays of newscasts; the latest from KARE 11 Investigates, Breaking the News and the Land of 10,000 Stories; exclusive programs like Verify and HeartThreads; and Minnesota sports talk from our partners at Locked On Minnesota. 

Before You Leave, Check This Out