Low Navitas enrollment defended

Tessa Duvall

When WKU and Navitas – a company that places foreign students into universities abroad – began a 10-year contract in January, officials expected to admit 80 students this semester.

But President Gary Ransdell said he expects the number is between 12 and 20 students, though he’s not exactly sure how many students are currently enrolled.

Officials say the short time frame between signing a contract with Navitas – which was an effort to expand WKU’s international community – and bringing the students to WKU has affected recruitment.

Dean Kahler, executive director of Navitas at WKU, said previously that he expected the number of international students at WKU to at least double by the end of the contract.

Multiple attempts to reach Kahler for this story were unsuccessful.

Doug McElroy, assistant vice president for Academic Affairs, said the small amount of time between signing the contract and bringing students to WKU impacted recruitment.

“From a recruiting standpoint, especially international, that’s not a lot of time,” he said. “Sure, we would like the numbers to be higher, but it’s not alarming at this point.”

Ransdell said the projections for this academic year weren’t based on statistical data but speculation of what the program could do.

Because WKU was the first American university to sign a contract with Navitas, McElroy said there’s no comparable data for enrollment expectations.

Ransdell said he expects Navitas enrollment to increase in January and to be on target with projections by fall 2011. If enrollment is still low then, Ransdell said that would be cause for concern.

When Navitas brings a student to WKU, a royalties check goes to Academic Affairs for each student signed, Ransdell said.

Navitas keeps 70 percent of the students’ first-year tuition payments, and WKU receives the rest, he said. After the student has completed the first year, WKU collects all of the tuition for every successive year.

From the tuition Navitas students pay – which is two and a half times in-state tuition – an amount equivalent to in-state tuition goes to the university’s base budget, and the rest goes to academic quality initiatives, Ransdell said.

As part of the contract with Navitas, WKU is obligated to construct a building to house the program, Ransdell said. This building will also house other programs, such as the Chinese Flagship Program, the Confucius Institute and the Honors College.

Before a building can be seriously planned, WKU must have at least 200 Navitas students, he said. At this level of Navitas enrollment, the revenue to pay for the building will be sustainable.

Ransdell said there are two ways for WKU to recruit internationally.

The first would require WKU to hire admissions staff to live and travel around the world, which is not practical, he said.

The other is to contract with agencies, which isn’t always desirable because agencies work with multiple universities at once, he said.

But WKU was the first American university to sign with Navitas, and since then, only three more universities have signed contracts, Ransdell said.

McElroy said although it’s too soon to tell, he anticipates that WKU will continue to work with Navitas after the 10-year contract is over.

Every institution that has worked with Navitas so far has renewed its contract, he said.

“Certainly past history suggests that Navitas is successful wherever it goes,” he said. “We don’t expect to be any different.”