Facing a budget crunch made worse by a $1.85 million shortfall this year, Shepherd University plans a more aggressive admissions campaign to increase enrollment.
Shepherd’s enrollment is down 3.38 percent from last year, according to the information presented during the fall assembly on Set. 9, 2013. “We are trying to keep tuition low, quality high and the piece we are changing now is we have to get out there and compete a lot more aggressively,” President Suzanne Shipley said.
Enrollment has been in a provisional stage since Kim Scranage, the former vice president of enrollment left unexpectedly in October for another admissions position. Matthew Huber, hired as the new admissions director in June of this year, departed from Shepherd after only three months.
The university has brought in Michael Konopski to serve as the interim vice president for enrollment management from Nov. 1 until June 31. He will come to Shepherd from New York facing a new set of challenges at a public liberal arts institution. Prior to Shepherd, he was the dean of enrollment management at Niagara University, the director of admissions at Georgetown College and the associate director of admissions at D’Youville College, all of which were private institutions.
Currently, there have been no plans for Shepherd to transition into a private liberal arts institution, although, Dow Benedict, the dean of arts and humanities stated that there had been some conversation among the alumni. “The frustrating part is the state is paying less money in, but not changing the expectations,” he said.
To also help bridge the gap, Shepherd has hired an outside marketing firm called Royall and Company, based out of Richmond, Va. which will connect with prospective students still in high school. According to Dr. Melby, Royall and Company plans to increase enrollment by 4 percent.
The marketing firm will be aligning with another company that Shepherd currently uses called Hobson’s. Although most students may not be familiar with this company, Hobson’s communicates with students once they are in the Banner System, which is the university database. “I didn’t know how scientific it all was,” said President Shipley.
Tuition was the one of the highest factors affecting enrollment, according to President Shipley. This year, tuition prices increased by 7.2 percent for in-state undergraduates, who had to pay an extra $422 per semester. Out of state undergraduate tuition rose by 4.7 percent, which forced students to pay an additional $714. President Shipley stated earlier this summer that the rise in tuition was due to a $1 million reduction in state support along with $1.1 million in costs and funding. Dow Benedict stated that the lack in state support causes the university to be more dependent on tuition.
Kelsey Mentzer, an out of state senior studying elementary education from Middletown, Md. transferred to Shepherd from Frederick Community College. “I transferred here because I really had no other choice at the time, but in retrospect I probably could have went somewhere else in state and paid tuition plus room and board for the price of tuition here,” said Mentzer.
Other factors affecting enrollment were Shepherd’s reputation and competing within that environment, along with the economy and fewer high school graduates to choose from. “Enrollment has cycles just like budgets have cycles,” President Shipley said.
Amanda Menke, an out of state senior elementary education student from Middletown, Md. transferred from Shepherd University after attending Virginia Wesleyan. She said she enjoyed coming to Shepherd because it is close to home and her father is a professor here. “The education program is phenomenal, but I don’t like that it’s such a big commuter school. There was more of a sense of community at my other school and here everyone seems to go home on the weekends,” she said.
Chris Brindle, a first year engineering major from Hedgesville, W.Va. said he was accepted to West Virginia University (WVU), but chose to come to Shepherd because of various reasons, such as its location and affordability. “The thing I like the most is its class size. I have a buddy who went to WVU and he doesn’t like that he’s just a number,” said Brindle.
As Shepherd works to up the ante on its enrollment campaign with an interim admissions director and outside marketing firm, the university has hopes to expand in the future. Dr. Melby stated that Shepherd will always be a regional university, and President Shipley agreed that building a more internationalized community would benefit the student body. “It is something that’s going to take an investment,” said Shipley.