Mining the VCU Report for Trends

There’s loads of interesting data in Virginia Commonwealth University’s new report on the university’s impact on Virginia and the Richmond region. I see no need to summarize the report’s main conclusions — I refer you to the executive summary posted here, re-published on this blog in partnership with the VCU Center for Urban and Regional Analysis. Rather, I dove into the report this morning to see what I might discover, and I surfaced with several pearls of data.

VCU fall enrollment ten-year trend.

Overall enrollment trends. After experiencing a growth spurt through 2009, hitting a high of 32,434 students, enrollment at VCU has declined modestly since then, by 1,192. Beneath the seemingly placid surface of small year-to-year changes, there has been tremendous churn. Undergraduate enrollment has continued to surge, increasing 25% over the 10-year period shown above. But graduate enrollment has declined by 33%.

The report gives no explanation for the drastic fall-off in graduate programs. Were budgets cut? Did the programs lose competitiveness compared to other institutions? Did graduate enrollments tumble nationally, or was this a VCU phenomenon?

Judging by a separate table showing the number of degrees granted, the fall-off seems to be concentrated in the schools of Education and Humanities & Sciences. Graduate degrees granted by the School of Business increased, while most other remained stable. The root of the phenomenon is probably specific to Education and Humanities.

Should it be a source of concern to see VCU losing ground in the production of post-graduate degrees? Not necessarily. When it comes to creating economic value, not all degrees are created equal. Graduate business, medical or engineering degrees, in which VCU held its own, are arguably in greater demand in the workforce than, say, psychology, history or English degrees. On the other hand, I’m not aware of any diminution in demand for teachers, so the reason for the decline in education M.A. is not immediately apparent. Whatever the case may be, that’s an economic analysis I would love to read.


Minority enrollment. The number of minority enrollments are up over the 10-year period. The main gains have come from Hispanics, Asians and students identifying as multi-race. However, African-American enrollment has declined, and the American Indian/Alaskan student population in 2015 has become so negligible that it cannot be perceived by the naked eye on VCU’s chart.

Two notes of interest: First, I am astonished by the large percentage — well over 10% — of the students classifying themselves as multi-racial. That number is large and growing, probably reflecting the increased percentage of interracial marriages and births (as opposed to, say, an increased emphasis on recruiting multi-racial students). The idea of the American melting pot, often disparaged, seems to be alive and well — at least at VCU.

Second, the decline in African-American enrollments is potentially concerning, especially given VCU’s self-declared role as an “institution of opportunity” serving first-generation college students. If this dip reflects an opening up of opportunities for black students elsewhere, this may be a positive thing. If it reflects a declining pool of college-ready black students graduating from Virginia high schools, or a perception that college is unaffordable, it is alarming. Perhaps there is another explanation entirely. Finding answers to such questions was not the purpose of the report, so the trend went un-examined. But it bears looking into.

Out-of-state enrollment. Out-of-state enrollment, an indicator of a university’s recognition and prestige beyond state lines, remained constant over the five-year period covered, although it did experience a terrifying drop in 2013-14 before recovering the next two years.

Out-of-state students are coveted because public Virginia universities charge them significantly more than that it costs to educate them. Speaking generically of Virginia public colleges, out-of-state students help subsidize the tuition of in-state students. Low enrollment of out-of-state students helps explain why VCU charges the fourth-highest tuition of any public university in the state.

Graduation rate. Let’s close with some good news. VCU has taken to heart the injunction to improve student retention. The six-year graduation rate has improved from 51% for the class of 2004-2005 to 61% for the class of 2009-2010, moving VCU closer to the 70% rate for all Virginia institutions. VCU’s performance compares favorably to peer institutions (with comparable demographics), which have seen slow to flat growth in their graduation rates.

Higher graduation rates means fewer ruined lives. When students, especially poor students, fail to complete college, they don’t achieve the workforce credential — a diploma– needed to obtain a stable, higher-paying job. It is exceedingly difficult for drop-outs to pay off student debt that averages $32,000 at VCU. Judging by this graph, VCU seems to be taking very seriously its obligation to boost graduation rates.

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11 responses to “Mining the VCU Report for Trends

  1. Two charts I’d be curious to see.

    1. – Median SAT score by year
    2. – cost-to-attend – by year

    Are we seeing a softening of demand because of price ?

    and – are they having to dip deeper into lower score applicants to maintain enrollment?

    these are the two areas I’d see as possible indicators of market saturation and price.

    I also think more and more kids are thinking more seriously about Community college and trade schools as a quicker path to a paying job because 4-yr college is not only uber expensive – it does not guarantee employment in the new economy unless you got the tougher-to-achieve academic credentials.

    Hopefully – we’re moving away from the 4-yr degree as the gold standard for employment and starting to see that people are realizing that there are other ways to get an education that can get them employed.

    I notice that JWGILLEY stated in a thread yesterday that they tried to get the 4yr colleges to concentrate on research and the Community Colleges – workforce training.

  2. Here’s the SAT data in the report:

    In the fall 2014 bar, you can see a purple sliver of extremely low SAT scores for the first time. Could be evidence that VCU is digging deeper.

  3. are these numbers consistent with what Cranky posted a few posts back?

    ?w=275

  4. grad rate? Cranky says 32% ..and they’re saying 65% ?

    what am I missing?

  5. Jim, you say, “Out-of-state students are coveted because public Virginia universities charge them significantly more than that it costs to educate them. Speaking generically of Virginia public colleges, out-of-state students help subsidize the tuition of in-state students.”

    Given the polarized debate over UVA’s ‘slush fund’ and alleged reallocation of in-state tuition payments, and over the independence of the top schools generally, I’m interested like LG in what that cost really is for undergrads school by school, what the tuition is, and therefore what that subsidization amount is. If this is the first of a series of in-depth dives into our colleges it would be nice to keep a running tab on an apples-to-apples basis.

    • SCHEV board members used what seemed to be a generic, rule-of-thumb number for the Virginia higher ed system — out-of-state students pay 160% of their costs. I’m sure the actual number varies from institution to institution, but that’s the number they were kicking around.

  6. I can see how out of state might be interested in UVA or W&M… Vtech or even Mary Wash but can’t figure out VCU much less why they’d pay that much more when it’s probably cheaper in their home state.

    but state money is fungible… it can be re-arranged on budget paper to be what the State expects…

    I still think we’re reaching the point where the cost of college is going to affect demand – and some schools will be lowering their SAT/other requirements and digging deeper in the pool for lower SAT kids… and
    they’ll continue that as long as the kids can get loans …..

    No one should mistake that College is a “business”… which operates according to state rules… sorta.. when they have to… but otherwise
    they utilize whatever flexibility they have to maximum ability.

    They are an “interest” group just like auto dealers, hospitals, Dominion etc..

  7. Talking about trends!

    look at this one:

    Saddling Students With Unaffordable Debt, Feds Say
    Even some Harvard grads are leaving school with debt they can’t repay.

    by Shahien Nasiripour
    January 9, 2017, 5:08 PM EST

    About one in four career-training programs at U.S. colleges is at risk of losing federal funding, the lifeblood for most schools, the Department of Education said on Monday. In a news statement, the department disclosed for the first time the number of recent graduates saddled with potentially unmanageable debt.

    The figures are part of the package of rules known as the gainful employment regulations, which attempt to measure whether graduates of career-training programs end up earning enough to afford their student debt. The Obama administration defined affordability as annual loan payments of no more than 20 percent of discretionary income, or 8 percent of total earnings.

    The Education Department evaluated typical student debt and earnings information for some 1.2 million recent graduates across 8,637 such programs. About 95 percent of 2,042 at-risk vocational programs are at for-profit colleges, the department said. They range from law schools and master’s degree programs to undergraduate certificates. Steve Gunderson, who leads Career Education Colleges & Universities, the for-profit college trade group, blasted the department as politically motivated and seeking to destroy colleges.

    More than 800 career-training programs across 296 schools produced graduates who recently left school with loan payments exceeding either 30 percent of their annual discretionary income or 12 percent of earnings, government data show. The schools range from the defunct ITT Technical Institute to Harvard University. (A graduate certificate in drama from the Ivy League school leaves the typical student with debt that’s 44 percent of discretionary earnings). Unless they challenge the data, schools must warn prospective students that they’re at risk of losing access to federal student loans within a few years.

    The regulations are meant to police a sector that is heavily reliant on taxpayers for its revenue in the form of federal student loans and grants. The Obama administration wants schools whose students graduate with unaffordable debt to either lower prices or eliminate poorly performing vocational programs.

    “Too many for-profit colleges have misled students, leaving them unable to find jobs that earn enough to pay off their crushing debt,” said Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee. “We must continue fighting to make sure students come before profits.”

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    An additional 243,145 students graduated from 1,239 vocational programs across 653 schools with potentially dangerous levels of debt when it is compared to their annual earnings. These graduates left schools such as Walden University and Charlotte School of Law with debt levels that ranging from 8 percent to 12 percent of their total earnings, or 20 percent to 30 percent of their discretionary income. Four straight years of falling in what the Education Department refers to as a “zone” rate would make these programs ineligible for federal funding, likely drying up the pool of prospective students able to attend.
    “When a student makes a personal and financial decision to attend college, the student must feel confident that it is a sound investment in his or her future, not a liability that will further defer his or her dreams,” said Education Secretary John B. King Jr.”

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-09/hundreds-of-colleges-saddling-students-with-unaffordable-debt-feds-say?cmpid=socialflow-twitter-business&utm_content=business&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social

    so .. here’s what I’d like to see – the above data for EACH higher ed school in Virginia!

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