New strategies aim to increase enrollment

BY MARIE VEILLETTE
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Deficit, buyouts, reduced enrollment: These are three  things students of MSUM are hearing about frequently. Though many may think the budget deficit is unique to this university, it is quite the opposite.

Because of reduced enrollment, MSUM has been forced to make cuts in order to balance it’s budget and avoid a black hole of debt. This dilemma is not faced by MSUM alone.

Provost Anne Blackhurst explained that enrollment is down throughout the nation, but especially in the Midwest and MnSCU system. She went on to say that spring 2014 enrollment was predicted to be down 2.5 percent at universities, which is exactly what it was for MSUM beginning this semester.

As for the cause of the decline, especially in the Midwest, Blackhurst named many reasons.

First, she said the oil boom in North Dakota has caused a great deal of out of state students from that area to stay in their home state rather than cross borders. The greater supply of money allows for more appealing scholarships.

A second reason Blackhurst cited was the economy. With the price of college education going up, many students choose to enter the job market right after high school, rather than going to college and entering into debt.

Lastly, the number of high school graduates is declining. Blackhurst said this “demographic issue” is expected to reverse in 2015, but there is still a delay for universities to see an increase in applicants.

With tuition as the college’s main source of income, the decline in enrollment paired with fewer prospects is not an ideal situation.

This is where Yvette Underdue Murph’s new Fall 2014 Strategic Enrollment Action Plan (SEAP) comes into play.

Underdue Murph is new to MSUM, but not to the task of finding innovative and creative ways to attract students to a particular college.

Working under the title of vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, Underdue Murph has revamped all old student recruitment plans.

Underdue Murph has created plans that are all-inclusive for every student type. Not only is the focus on incoming freshman prospects, but also on transfer, international, non traditional, graduate, retaining current students and also students who may have an unfinished degree.

Fall 2014 SEAP is divided into eight initiatives that strive to make MSUM look more attractive to all students.

The first two initiatives focus on incoming freshman and transfer students.

“We are shifting the paradigm from traditional models of recruiting to building sustainable realationships with high school guidance councilors and principles,” Underdue Murph said.

Underdue Murph and her team identified six locations that are the top “feeders” to the application pool. These six locations will be host to a special recruitment event that will highlight past graduates from the area. Underdue Murph also wants to offer a sort of mock classroom experience in addition to a campus tour to show what the MSUM experience is really like.

The third initiative is similar to the first two, but focuses on building relationships with administrators at community colleges in the six areas identified. There will be a big focus on utilizing MSUM’s current scholarship portfolio to find ones that are tailored to students in these community colleges, thus making MSUM more appealing.

Another initiative includes a focus on the current students of MSUM. Financial aid can get confusing, even for the most organized students. Financial aid awareness workshops can clear up any questions students may have as well as “create an environment where students know how to manage their academic financial aid portfolios,” Underdue Murph explained. The workshops would also aim to increase the number of students submitting their FAFSA renewals early, gaining them the biggest aid packages possible.

One initiative is dedicated to students with unfinished degrees. Going back to data from fall 2012, Underdue Murph and her team plan to identify students with unfinished degrees that are eligible to return to campus. She has created a specialized outreach program using both email and phone to attempt to bring those students back, not just for the sake of the university, but in an attempt to enrich the academic community of the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Almost all of the initiatives rely on revamping the communication methods of telephone, email and direct mail to be continuous with prospective students of every type.  A big focus will be placed on “outreach through telephone campaigns to prospective students as well as new students not yet on campus to keep them engaged before they get here,” Underdue Murph said.

Underdue Murph also explained that it would be beneficial to have an international student currently attending MSUM to make calls back to their region to either encourage other students from their area to consider studying at MSUM or as a follow up with international students who are not yet on campus, but plan to study abroad at the University.

Graduate students are not left out of the new recruitment plan.  Underdue Murph stressed that the University is not “marketing in its own backyard.” She plans to implement a more aggressive strategy for reaching out to students graduating with their bachelor’s degree by showing them the graduate school options MSUM can offer.

Underdue Murph emphasized the design of all of the initiatives and the whole plan itself is based on integrated, data driven enrollment management methodology. “We are using real-time data and making decisions in real time,” she said.

“Sometimes to build enrollment, you’ve got to drop. We have to see a decline in enrollment to get it back,” Underdue Murph stated.

While the number of applicants continues to drop, the number of applicants accepted increased, possibly showing that the targeting of recruitment efforts is paying off, despite all the obstacles.

“There has never been a plan like this before,” Underdue Murph said.

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