Accreditation, enrollment, recruiting amongst topics discussed at Board of Regents retreat

File photo of Cherry Hall.

Jonah Phillips

Board governance and accreditation, enrollment management, and an update to WKU’s ‘action plan’ were among topics of discussion as the Board of Regents met on Thursday, July 23 for its annual retreat.

The day started with a presentation by Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools/Commission on Colleges (SACS/COC). 

SACS/COC is one of six independent accreditation entities across the United States that evaluates colleges (two-year and four-year) on common standards and principals.  The Southern region works on an accreditation every ten years system, though some systems such as New England and North Central work on an accreditation every seven years system. 

Dr. Wheelan’s presentation gave board members information on the accreditation process, and how contrary to common belief, SACS/COC is not a governmental agency and instead works in partnership with the federal government, making sure that the schools that receive federal funding all meet the requirements that are expected of them. 

“The idea behind the presentation was to give board members and administrators a better idea of what the accreditation system really looks like,” Wheelan said. “And how (SACS/COC) is an entity that works with WKU, not against it.” 

The second portion of the retreat was, according to President Gary Ransdell ”the most critical dynamic at our university.”

Chief Enrollment and Graduation Officer Brian Meredith and Jace Lux, the Director of Recruitment and Admissions gave a presentation on enrollment, retention, and the progress their efforts have made to combat the dropping enrollment WKU saw last year.  

One thing WKU has focused on as enrollment numbers have dropped has been the recruitment of transfers, international students, and ‘post-traditional’ students—and this focus has shifted for good reason.

“High school seniors—of course we are still going to focus on this demographic, but transfer students, international students, and post-tradition students are how we are going to set ourselves apart from other universities in the state of Kentucky,” Lux said.

Meredith pointed out that these three channels of recruitment are what need to be firing on all cylinders if enrollment is expected to increase at a rate that is viewed as healthy by the university.

Lux explained why it is important to target transfers, international and post-traditional students by showing a gradual drop in percentage of high school seniors applying to four-year institutions as well as a shrinking demographic as a whole (there are less high-school age kids today than there was even a decade ago—almost five percent less according to Lux).

In 2009 70.1 percent of all high school graduates went to college, but by 2013 that number had dropped to 66.2 percent, and by 2014 it had dropped even more to 65.9 percent. 

“So we have a fewer number of high school aged students in this country and coupled with that we have a shrinking percentage of them deciding to go to college,” Lux said.

Lux said that the landscape of the student body is not the only one changing—he also noted the way WKU is going about targeting these recruits is under somewhat of a renaissance.

In 2015 roughly 90 percent of students report that parents play a substantial role in recruitment, and this is something Lux said WKU is using to its advantage. 

“We recruit the parents just as much as the students in some cases,” Lux said—saying that more often than not selling a student on a school isn’t enough.

Besides channeling recruitment efforts to more than just the individual student themselves, the office of admissions is also changing the way they go about communication. 

The current high school and college aged generation as well as their parents prefer a personalized form of communication—one where they feel they are being directly reached out to instead of being mass-communicated to.

To create the more personal relationship the prospective students and their parents expect the office of admission has deployed some fairly simple fixes. 

For the student, it may be a personalized email with their name and information specific to them contained within, or even a phone call from WKU congratulating them on their acceptance to WKU; for a parent it may be a letter or an email addressed specifically to them, rather than to “the parent of student x.” 

The question still remains as to whether these efforts have proven effective—and that question won’t be definitively answered until October when WKU conducts its census.

What Lux and Dr. Meredith did report is that the number of students currently admitted to the University is up by 1,072 students compared to the number of students that were admitted to the university this time last year.

The yield of that roughly 1100-student increase will be measured through the October census (a yield is the number of students that enroll at an institution versus how many receive admittance but chose to attend a different institution).