Regents discuss drop in enrollment, diversity plan

Faculty Regent Barbara Burch attends the board of regents meeting held in Mass Media and Technology Hall on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017

Emma Collins

A decrease in enrollment for the fall 2017 semester resulted in a 3 percent loss in tuition revenue, further straining WKU’s $10 million budget deficit, according to the preliminary 2017 fall enrollment report presented at the quarterly Board of Regents meeting.

Enrollment dropped 3 percent and resulted in a loss of approximately $2.3 million for the fall semester, Ann Mead, senior vice president for finance and administration, said at the meeting on Friday. The $2.3 million does not include revenue from dual-credit courses, she said.

Mead said the final loss of revenue is still unknown, but WKU could have lost more than the $2.3 million of tuition revenue.

“Essentially we could end up $4 to $5 million short,” Mead said.

President Timothy Caboni and the board discussed potential options to increase the rate of enrollment and retention and to prevent a further loss of revenue.

Regent John Ridley said the loss of tuition revenue was concerning because WKU did not have the funds to replace the loss.

“This is a pretty serious matter in my mind,” Ridley said.

Caboni said WKU needs to consider whether students who can succeed academically are being admitted. He said WKU also needs to ensure assistance is provided to improve students’ success.

Caboni said WKU may need to consider increasing efforts to recruit to WKU students who participated in dual-credit courses in high school. WKU has 2,861 high school students enrolled in the dual-credit program for fall 2017, according to the enrollment report. The number of enrolled students has increased by 1,409 students since 2013.

Caboni said recruitment efforts need to focus on making dual-credit students feel like a part of WKU while they are still enrolled in high school and encouraging them to attend WKU once they graduate.

“I feel like there’s a crop of potential students that’s rich for us,” Caboni said.

Chief enrollment and graduation officer Brian Meredith said dual-credit students do receive benefits from WKU, such as free entry to athletic games. However, Meredith said many of these students see themselves as taking college-credit courses instead of college-credit courses offered through WKU.

The number of enrolled international students also decreased by approximately 29 percent. International students’ tuition was $26,160 for the 2017-2018 school year, and the drop in enrollment caused an additional loss of nearly $6 million, Meredith said. China and Saudi Arabia, the two countries with the most enrolled students, both saw enrollment decrease by 34.8 percent and 29.5 percent, respectively.

Meredith said many universities have seen similar drops in international enrollment, and the decrease in international students at WKU was expected given the current political climate.

Meredith referred to the enrollment report as the “story of threes” because, including the total enrollment’s 3 percent drop, the enrollment of first-time, first-year students, full-time students and part-time students all dropped by around 3 percent. The number of enrolled freshmen, sophomores, juniors and master’s students also decreased by at least 3 percent each.

Caboni said WKU must also work on its retention rate. The one-year retention rate for all first-time, first-year students, including part-time and associate degree-seeking students, from 2016-2017 was approximately 67 percent, a nearly 3 percent drop from fall 2016, according to the enrollment report.

Caboni said the rate provides WKU with a “tremendous opportunity” to increase retention. He said the increase in the number of students enrolled at WKU from Tennessee shows WKU is “penetrating the marketplace” in surrounding areas.

“Once they’re here we must do everything in our power to keep them here,” Caboni said of students from Tennessee.

Faculty Regent Barbara Burch was honored during the meeting and thanked for her service to WKU. Regent Philip Bale, chair of the board, thanked Burch for her “undying love for this university” and passion for student success.

“She has worn more hats in this university than probably any regent in history,” Bale said.

During her time at WKU, Burch has served as a professor, provost, vice president for academic affairs and interim president. The meeting was scheduled to be Burch’s last meeting, but two inconclusive faculty regent elections prevented the swearing in of a new faculty regent.

The board also authorized the creation of the Kelly M. Burch Institute for Transformative Practice in Higher Education. Kelly Burch, a WKU graduate, is the late daughter of Burch and her husband, Ken Burch.

Interim vice president for development and alumni relations John Paul Blair said the mission of the Burch Institute is to support research on initiatives related to the success of students. He said the organization’s goal is be “nationally recognized for its focus on research in the areas of retention, persistence to graduation and data driven best practices leading to student success.”

A small portion of the meeting was dedicated to discussing the University-Wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan. The board approved the plan following two revisions, one involving updating information about graduate programs and one involving wording for future programming at WKU.

The board also authorized WKU to assume ownership of three properties on Alumni Avenue, Normal Street and Nashville Road. Part of the property on Nashville Road was given to the WKU Foundation, a non-profit whose services include fundraising for WKU.

The board spent the last portion of the meeting in a closed session discussing the potential discipline or dismal of an unspecified employee. Bale said no formal action was taken during the closed session.

A previous version of this story stated that WKU’s fall 2017 retention rate was lower than five out of eight state universities. That comparison looked at the retention rate for first-time, first-year students, not first-time, full-time baccalaureate students to compare to other state universities. The Herald regrets the error. 

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].