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Enrollment Strategy Plan

MTSU’s enrollment has grown significantly, from 19,121 students in 2000 to more than 25,000 today. A key to future efforts to better serve students will be the implementation of a new strategic plan for student success.

A draft enrollment and retention plan now under my review would meet the requirements of the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 and the accompanying funding formula, where simple enrollment growth by itself is not rewarded; instead, budget allocations are based on demonstrated improvements in  retention and plan was sharedwith the Faculty Senate, the Chairs Council, and other faculty last spring. Feedback was solicited through the end of September 2012.

A consulting team of faculty was then put together, consisting of Drs. Michael Arndt, Jackie Eller, Steve Estes, Marva Lucas, and Rebecca Fischer. That group worked hard through the summer of 2012 and  even into the holiday season, evaluating comments that came in from faculty and administrators across the campus, reviewing the sources of data represented in the initial draft, and adding additional content to the strategic plan. As a result of their best efforts, a final plan will be forthcoming from my office.

A key recommendation in the draft plan is to reach a target maximum enrollment capacity of 30,000 students through carefully managed, targeted growth in various subpopulations of the student body. The focus would also be on attracting more students who are likely to graduate and using a variety of support systems to help keep all students on a path to academic success.

Final plans will emphasize constant communication as a key to targeted recruitment and include strategic use of software that makes it easier for the University to identify and stay in touch with top prospects. It will provide a continuum of support to keep enrolled students on track and engaged. And it will also broaden that safety net, adding more specialized programs and stricter advising requirements for students who are statistically at higher risk of academic failure.

Critical questions addressed in the plan include the following:

  • Should we slow the growth of our freshman class?
  • Can we better target high-achievers by slightly raising academic standards for guaranteed  undergraduate admission?Should we continue to increase the number of graduate students, who earn their diplomas more quickly and reliably than undergraduates?
  • Should we continue to aggressively pursue increasing the enrollment of more international students, a high-achieving group whose members generally complete their degrees on time?
  • Should we continue to increase our recruitment efforts and scholarship dollars for transfer students, who have survived the so-called dropout years of early college?

As these plans are finalized and adopted, it is important to keep in mind that plans alone will not ensure student success. Retaining and graduating students is everyone’s job. Students will remember those  faculty and staff members who challenged them the most, not the least. They will remember the people who reached out, who connected with them. That is why I ask each of you to remember that no matter what you do—as a member of the faculty, staff, or administration—all of us have a responsibility for  student success.

MTSU is already the most efficient producer of graduates for Tennessee and a tremendous investment  or the state. Part of the reason is that everyone at MTSU—every dean, every professor, every secretary, every technical support person, every groundskeeper—feels that retention and graduation of students is their job. Together, we make student success possible.

Making Student Success a Priority

MTSU students gather on the KOM steps

MTSU students gather on the steps of Kirksey Old Main

As we embark on our second century, we are well positioned to build on our success and cement our reputation as Tennessee’s Best comprehensive university.

But there is much more to do if we are to reach our full potential.

As you well know, the state’s funding formula for universities has changed. With the passage of the Complete College Tennessee Act, our state appropriation is now based on retention and graduation rates, not enrollment.

This change has prompted MTSU, as well as all of the state’s public institutions of higher education, to rethink our operations and structure.

The funding formula makes it more important than ever for us to focus on attracting more students who are best equipped for college and are most likely to graduate.

And it becomes critical that we continue to develop effective support systems that will help all our students succeed.

It is also time for us to again take a strong, careful look at the size of our institution and to consider the following questions and issues:

  • What should be our maximum enrollment?
  • How does that number balance with our resources and standards?

Last academic year, I asked for the development of a plan that would allow for enrollment growth in a deliberate and economically viable way.

The Strategic Plan for Enrollment Management, currently in draft form, is now before the Faculty Senate and others for feedback.

It addresses several critical questions, among them:

  • Should we slow the growth of our freshman class?
  • Can we better target high-achievers by slightly raising academic standards for guaranteed undergraduate admission?
  • Should we continue to increase the number of graduate students, who earn their diplomas more quickly and reliably than undergraduates?
  • Should we continue to aggressively pursue increasing the enrollment of more international students, a high achieving group, whose members generally complete their degrees on time?
  • And should we continue to increase our recruitment efforts and scholarship dollars for transfer students, who have survived the so-called dropout years of early college?

In 1993, a noted scholar of higher education administration, Vincent Tinto, said universities must do more than recruit solid students—they must also build a culture that enables them to succeed.

Tinto put forward three very simple principles of “effective retention” and they are:

  • Put student welfare ahead of other institutional goals. In other words, work first to take care of students and, most likely, most everything else will follow suit.
  • Create and maintain retention tools and practices that help all students, not just some of them.
  • AND build a sense of community and common values, which helps to build connection and belonging by students to the university.

I want to spend a minute on that third point—building a sense of community and common values for the institution.

A fascinating 2005 study by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities on best practices in student retention revealed several points that are worthy of reflection.

The successful universities profiled in the study worked to create a pervasive attitude that all students can succeed, reinforced by a wider culture of student engagement, on multiple levels. They were not content to rest on past success.

Recently, we have initiated some programs to help improve student success on our campus. For example:

• We started an Academic Alert program, which allows faculty to communicate directly with students about classroom performance and follow up on concerns. Last year, more than 27,000 early alerts were entered in this digital system.

• We have assigned all incoming students with Academic Counselors, in addition to their standard academic advisors. While advisors change each time a student changes majors, the student’s Academic Counselor is the one person they can turn to for help — from enrollment through graduation — regardless of what they study.

• AND…We are now deploying admissions advisors to major feeder community colleges in the region. Through this program, prospective transfer students have access—on their own campus—to MTSU staff through regularly maintained office hours at the community college.

These are just three of the many ideas that are in place or being developed that focus upon student success. Through these and other retention efforts, we hope to improve student performance and scholarship and target resources to students when they most need them.

But there is so much more to do. • If we sit on our hands and do nothing, we may fail to seize an opportunity that could define our second century.

Students will remember those faculty and staff members who challenged them the most, not the least. They will remember the people who reached out, who connected with them.

That is why I ask each of you to remember that no matter what you do, as a member of the faculty, staff or administration, all of us have a responsibility for student success.

Together, we make student success possible at Middle Tennessee State University.

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