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Everything you ever wanted to know about census

Learn more about MSU Denver’s enrollment count and how the University uses the data.

By Sarah Harman

September 16, 2019

Three students standing in front of the Tivoli Student Union talking.Census is a population count known to date back to ancient Rome. At Metropolitan State University of Denver, however, census is an official count of student enrollment at a specific point in time. This count informs formal and informal processes, decisions, planning projections and reporting — and it contributes to understanding our students’ needs.

Examining census data can prompt us to ask valuable next-level questions to support student retention, success and more. For example, census data was important in helping MSU Denver achieve Hispanic-Serving Institution designation. The U.S. Department of Education relies on student-enrollment data disaggregated by race and ethnicity to determine whether an institution meets Minority Serving Institutions designation standards, according to Angela Marquez, Ph.D., special assistant to the president for HSI.

“It is important for our data to be consistent and reliable, as designation is also tied to the funding we can apply for and the enrollment data is tied to funding we are given from the state,” Marquez said. “The HSI Implementation Team relies on this data to track the trends in enrollment as well as persistence and completion. Data also helps to inform practice and recommend improvements. Overall, our data is essential to driving decision-making to best serve and educate our student population.”

This year’s Fall Term Census Date was Sept. 4 at midnight. On Sept. 5, the University’s Institutional Research team, headed by Director Ellen Boswell, began working with the Office of the Registrar, Admissions and the schools and colleges as necessary to verify, compile and format the data. On Friday, the team distributed the data in the form of the Undergraduate and Graduate Census Fall Student Profiles reports.

Some frequently asked census questions:

What does census mean for students?

Census is the last day students can drop a full-term class and still receive a refund. It is also the last day a student can keep a full-term course off their transcript. The majority of course-drops will happen on or before census date.

How is the census date selected?

While institutions set their own census dates, those dates must fit within Colorado Commission on Higher Education Full-time Equivalent Reporting Guidelines and Procedures. At MSU Denver, the census date is approximately 15% into the academic term (including weekends and holidays) as calculated by the Registrar’s Office according to those state guidelines. If the specific census date falls on a weekend or holiday, it is moved to the following business day.

Why is fall census significant?

Fall is typically MSU Denver’s highest-enrollment semester and has been a strong indicator of student patterns.

Does census apply only to full-term courses?

Every course has a census date – even courses that are not on the standard full-term schedule. This fact can confuse conversations about census data, especially when research questions and purposes are not clearly stated. Courses continue to experience some enrollment movement, in and out, throughout the semester; this can be movement in full-term courses and in courses with alternate schedules.

Does MSU Denver continue to monitor enrollment changes after census?

Post-census enrollment movement is captured in End of Term reporting. End of Term reporting becomes the official record of attempted hours, reported to meet state requirements and populate reports and dashboards. End of Term reporting appears in the state’s Student Unit Record Data System and in the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

How does the state use census and End of Term data?

The State of Colorado uses term “census reporting” to provide an early snapshot that informs state projections and preliminary policy concepts. The state uses End of Term reporting to inform funding models and policy decisions and to populate publicly reported dashboards and reports produced by the Colorado Department of Higher Education. We anticipate that the Colorado legislature will actively discuss potential or proposed higher-education funding-model changes during the upcoming legislative session.

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