Friday, January 09, 2009

Live by the Market, Die by.....

The take away from Graham's open letter to the Penn State community earlier this week is that Old Main is operating in an uncertain and treacherous economic environment. This despite his effort to portray the University's finances as strong. The biggest uncertainty for the school,as I've noted in the past, is enrollment.

Provost Rodney Erickson touched on this in an email to the Centre Daily Times,

The university is also seeing more students looking for financial aid. Executive Vice President and Provost Rodney Erickson said some may not be able to access loans.

It’s too early to tell what the magnitude might be, but there will be some number of students who will not return for the spring semester (or next year) because of difficulties accessing loans from the private credit markets or adverse changes in their personal or family economic circumstances,” Erickson said [wrote] in an e-mail.

I think Rod is not being fully forthcoming here. While the full magnitude of the of the enrollment decline this semester is not yet known, Old Main, I'm sure, has some indication of what's going on.

To give you a feel for what the impact of an enrollment drop might be, here are some numbers from the Penn State's Common Data Set. As of Fall 2009, there were 36,749 full time undergraduates enrolled at University Park. Of these student, 25% are from out-of-state and pay tuition and mandatory fees of $24,940. The other 75% of students pay in-state-tuition and mandatory fees of $13,706. A one percent drop in out-of-state student enrollment, i.e. a decline of 92 students, would result in a revenue fall of $2,294,480. The same percentage drop in in-state enrollment, a decline of 276 students, would result in a revenue decrease of $3,782,856.

A few percent drop in enrollment could have a serious negative impact on cash flow for the university. And this doesn't take into account the Commonwealth campuses where many of the University's more economically vulnerable lower income students matriculate. Old Main knows this and there very likely is a lot of nail bitting going on there these days.

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