Christa Kelly, News Editor
Administrators met in the Marshall Room on Wednesday to discuss how to grow enrollment to the university. Provost Karen Kaivola opened the discussion by thanking her co-presenters and summarizing the day’s topic.
“We need to be equipping ourselves,” Kaivola said, “In this time of challenge, change and transition.”
This idea of being in a challenging era of flux would be a theme throughout the meeting. Robert Gould, Vice President of Strategic Enrollment Management, discussed it further, stating that we need to work to “build a sustainable university”. He defined this as a school with the ability to “survive, adapt and thrive within a culture of learning and results, supported by our legacy of caring and purpose.” And imperative part of this, Gould said, was creating “an educational experience free from the barriers of poverty, racism and discrimination.”
David Strauss, a principal from the Art and Science Group, a consulting group which helps bolster the success of universities, delivered the main address of the day. He, too, seemed concerned about the current state of higher education.
“It’s harder and harder for institutions to do what they feel called to do.” Strauss said. “Higher education has entered an era of significant change and challenge, reflected in heightened market volatility.” He explained that it is a difficult time for a few reasons. Economic pressure, demographic shifts, changing technology and more all are causing a perfect storm of troubles, says Strauss, leaving students and universities in a difficult position.
Strauss pulled up a graph on the presentation that he was delivering. It showed that high school graduations were falling, especially in the Midwest. Over a short period of time, graduations had fallen by 8%, or 60,000 graduates.
“That’s a serious challenge,” Strauss said. He also discussed the changing demographics of this group. Most of the change was coming from middle class Caucasian students dropping out of high school–the place that Strauss said the majority of universities’ revenue has been coming from.
This lack of potential college students has been having effects. This year, Strauss said, 63% of universities did not meet their May 1st enrollment goals.
Strauss acknowledged that Augsburg was currently an exception, but that they still would need to work “to sustain the past remarkable gains of undergraduate student enrollment”. He also pointed out the Augsburg was having some difficulty maintaining these large class sizes, noting that one-third of Augsburg undergraduate students do not graduate within six years.
“Where do we go from here?” he asked. He responded by giving the room a number of important ways that Augsburg could better “create an enrollment that is sustainable from a financial and mission perspective.”
First, he highlighted that there was no one formula to create a sustainable university. “What works for each institution is idiosyncratically different from what will work for others,” said Strauss. He highlighted graphs showing that proposed changes to neighboring universities could have completely opposite effects.
Second, he explained the importance of listening to student and faculty opinion. “Just because we think it’s cool doesn’t mean they will,” he quipped.
Finally, he noted that themes were important, but how they were acted out in practice made more of a difference.
During the question and answer segment following Strauss’ presentation, several people noted that though he was clear that there was no universal advice, the advice in his presentation was generic and not specific to Augsburg. He acknowledged this, and returned to a specific value that he saw as one of Augsburg’s most notable qualities: diversity.
“Is it sufficiently compelling so we get the revenue and students that we need to thrive?” he asked. “Is the nature of the student body that you’ve created sufficient by itself? Is it enough? Or do we need to build more pillars?”