Although fall 2009 saw the largest ever graduate enrollment at ASU and the second largest undergraduate population, these numbers did not affect our state funding, which is based on a two-year budget cycle. To increase our state funding, we must sustain and accelerate our enrollment growth during this summer and fall as well as the 2011 spring semester. Enrollment growth is the result of multiple factors, but I would like to focus on three critical areas.
First, we must recruit students with the ability to succeed at ASU. We now define success as graduation, rather than simply attending the university. Although we have educated generations of outstanding students who go onto successful and rewarding careers, our graduation rate is well below that of our peer institutions. Clearly, we must recruit students with the ability to benefit from a rigorous ASU education, while also extending them financial support to make the cost of our education affordable. Last year we raised our admission standards to eliminate accepting students with little chance of success at our university. As a result, fall 2009 saw a more academically prepared pool of applicants, with a greater number of accepted students actually enrolling at ASU.
We also radically redesigned how we allocate our significant scholarship resources to students. The Texas Tech University System (TTUS) Board of Regents approved our decision to focus on students in the top 15-25 percent of their high school class, with ACT scores in the 21-24 range. By strategically allocating our scholarships in this range, we are confident that we will recruit a more academically prepared student population with an expected increase in retention and graduation rates. This recruiting focus will partner with ASU’s anticipated designation by the U.S. Department of Education as an Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and complement the accelerating the growth in our outstanding Honors Program. A diverse yet academically prepared student population is critical to the long-term health of our institution.
Second, we must retain the students who meet our admission standards and enroll at ASU. Unfortunately, our historic retention rates mirror our graduation rates, both of which are well below those for our peer institutions. As we recruit students from the larger population centers of the state, ASU becomes their residential home for four years. To meet their expectations, we have greatly extended campus hours of operation, improved the availability of food and recreational opportunities, and reviewed when classes are offered to best meet their needs. A critical component of retention revolves around housing options for our students. Centennial Village has made a major impact on the quality of life available to our students. We will present proposals this spring to the TTUS Board of Regents for additional housing on campus to meet greater student demand.
Most importantly, though, are the academic services available to students to ensure that they progress through their studies and graduate from ASU. Each student must have access to an adviser well before they find themselves in academic difficulty. Although many faculty and departments on campus have provided an extraordinary level of advising to their students, institutional coordination has been lacking in this critical retention effort. Pointedly, the students most at risk of failure are those who are on academic probation. Yet this student population has not been included in any of ASU’s advising efforts. As a response, this fall we centralized our academic advising system and required that each college establish an office and fund a professional advising staff. As importantly, we have created at several campus locations tutoring centers that are open five days a week and free of charge to our students.
Finally, we must compete with other institutions for students. Prospective students must be aware of ASU before we can expect them to apply for admission. Unfortunately, in the state’s larger population centers we have found that awareness of ASU is limited, especially among high school guidance counselors who are critical in helping students select a college to attend. I have hosted several lunches for counselors in Austin and San Antonio where I share our story, ranging from the quality of our academic programs to our significant scholarship awards and to the success of our students after graduation. While the response of these groups has been uniformly positive, it is also very clear that they had insufficient information about our institution.
Their lack of institutional awareness was underscored at the recent meeting of university presidents at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) annual conference in San Antonio. Because of national economic trends, high school students were going to their second and third choices for college, based on the financial aid package they were offered. Yet ASU failed to award significant amounts of available financial aid, because we did not receive enough qualified applications from eligible students. To assist us in determining how best to position ASU in the competition for students, we have commissioned the marketing firm of Cohn and Wolfe from Austin to engage in a market survey. Their recommendations will be incorporated into our spring marketing and admissions initiatives in time to meet the new state cycle for funding higher education.
So, 2010 will indeed be a pivotal year for ASU. While the approach of ”build it and they will come” might have worked in the movie Field of Dreams, ASU cannot be content with a wait-and-see attitude. We have an exceptional institution, sustained by a dedicated faculty and staff, supported by a caring and engaged community, and poised for an even brighter future. At the same time, we are in competition for students during a period when the cost and effectiveness of higher education are being questioned by the economic turmoil now affecting our nation. I am confident that these initiatives, which are the result of hard work and vision by many on campus, will position ASU to succeed in the years to come.
Joseph C. Rallo