VP candidates present ideas on upping enrollment

by Tyler Jensen


Amidst other attempts to revive student enrollment, MSUM administration has begun its search for a new vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. The position’s five candidates conducted public forums at the university last week to discuss their experience and plans for the future.

Search committee chair Dan Heckaman said the university is looking for someone with a focus on student affairs and a “specific plan for increasing enrollment.”

“We’ve got five really strong candidates from all over the country,” he said. “I think their level of expertise is a good fit, and we’re really looking for a good value fit.”

The candidates’ presentations were centered on MSUM’s core values of grit, humility and heart.

Douglas Wermedal, South Dakota State University’s current interim vice president for student affairs, related his presentation to MSUM’s history, cracking a joke or two about how during one SDSU renovation, planners asked for a few more fireplaces than they needed.

“Because of a typo, instead of 11 fireplaces on 11 floors, two zeroes had been added to the 11, so the call I got was, ‘Uh, Doug, it looks like there’s 1,100 fireplaces in this building. Is that one per student?’ Because my natural instinct is to go for the joke, I said, ‘Yeah, we were just wanting to see what would happen,” he said, laughing.

Jokes aside, he said the fireplaces did serve a purpose, providing students a sense of home and community. Those sensations are something Wermedal emphasized in his presentation, discussing renovations made with socializing in mind and SDSU faculty’s helping with student move-in days.

He said the key to getting enrollment back on track is seeking students who don’t fit the description of the traditional high school graduate.

“What you have to do is find micro markets,” he said, discussing how SDSU was able to redefine elements of tuition and fees to make military-affiliated families eligible for $2,800 more than what they were previously receiving in their award packages.

Laura Bayless is in a role comparable to Wermedal’s at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. She works at the university as its assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and said she is drawn to the MSUM’s core values. Her work in student affairs and enrollment management make her qualified for the role, she said, adding she has previously held roles as dean, vice president, assistant dean and assistant vice president for student affairs at four colleges she worked at prior to gaining her current position.

Her presentation emphasized the importance of collaboration.

“I would support the staff in enhancing their strategies to attract and retain students at MSUM, building on the best practices in the field and MSUM’s unique culture,” she said. “Recruiting a strong student body requires all people on campus to work together — students, faculty and staff.”

Michael Sachs, the assistant vice president for student affairs at the East Stroudsburg campus of the University of Pennsylvania, discussed his focus on learning and student engagement. Sachs is also a licensed New York attorney and a public speaker. He gives talks across the country on issues ranging from health and safety to outcomes in student learning and student engagement.

“What I will bring to MSUM is a student-centered philosophy that places student learning first,” he said. “I will strive to provide students with the resources they need to achieve their highest potential.”

Sachs said MSUM needs to establish a stronger sense of  identity and market that to potential students.

“Knowing what the university does best is key to enrollment growth,” he said. “That, however, is only the first step. The next is to promote those unique attributes and market them to prospective students and their families who share MSUM’s values and uniqueness.”

Brenda Amenson-Hill, currently the dean of students and Title IX coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, made her case for becoming the next vice president, mentioning how her current university educates 6,800 students, a number comparable to MSUM’s population. She’s worked at a variety of colleges — private and public, large and small. She connected with the university’s core value of grit, discussing her experience as a first-generation college student.

“I told my parents I was going to go to college, and they said, ‘Great, how are you going to pay for it?’”

She worked two jobs while attending college and said that feat relates to a trait she personally values: dedication. Another is a willingness to work with others to accomplish goals, she said. Amenson-Hill said MSUM could work on establishing a better sense of inclusion in its campus climate. Like Sachs, she said identity is key.

“Your marketing, I don’t know if it’s really good or bad, I’m just saying it has to be clear as to who you are,” she said. “If you say Minnesota State University Moorhead, people should say, ‘Oh yeah, they’re really good at …’”

She said campus culture plays a huge role in students’ college selection. She said her son’s college search was largely defined by considerations of individual universities’ environments.

Edgar Berry, former vice president for student affairs at Texas College, related his presentation to experiences he had as a guidance counselor at high schools and as a judicial affairs officer at colleges.

He mentioned the case of a college student who broke into a building to change his grades. The student was caught, he said, and administrators began the process of suspending him. Berry said the student came to him, and he walked the student through what he was to do, starting with calling his parents and telling them what happened. He told the student what he should do during his suspension, he said — what classes he should take outside school and the volunteer work he should complete.

Berry said he worked as a moderator in the faculty meeting that aimed to have the student suspended for three years. Berry said he pointed out the school could only suspend the student for one year, and the faculty listened to him. Both sides won in that way, he said.

“It saved them from a lawsuit, and the student only was suspended for a year instead of three,” he said, adding the former student still thanks him today.

Like Sachs and Amenson-Hill, Berry said the university should market what makes it special. He asked the assembled group what made MSUM unique and said that is what needs to be shared with prospective students. He also said MSUM should start promoting itself to students early on.

“Wouldn’t it be great if a student on their first day said, ‘I’ve wanted to come here since middle school!’?” Berry asked the crowd.

Heckaman said while the search committee will be choosing someone with a specific plan for enrollment, the university also plans to hire an associate vice president of enrollment management. In the meantime, the vice president position will remain filled by its interim, athletics director Doug Peters, a role he has held since September, when Yvette Underdue Murph resigned from the job for personal reasons.

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