With the announcement of budget cuts made in both semesters that have resulted or will result in the termination or retirement of faculty and staff members at EMU, it is easy to think pessimistically about the future of this university.
Over the past several years, student enrollment has remained stagnant. Over the last few years, first-year enrollment has not met expectations. The university’s retention rate has fallen sharply over the last 5 years, dropping from 80 percent to 73 percent.
There is a plan in place to prevent these numbers from dropping any further and actually increase enrollment over the next three years. According to Vice President of Enrollment Jim Smucker, the Strategic Enrollment Plan (SEP) has been devised and ratified by the university. “In the fall, we engaged the faculty and staff in a series of meetings to develop this plan. We got feedback in a variety of ways and developed a rough draft of the plan. Then we had a consultant come and spend two days with us and dissected [the plan] and critiqued it and added to it. That was really valuable. Now we’ve been spending this spring semester putting the finishing touches on that, and we have a final draft now. The Marketing and Enrollment Committee is meeting next Tuesday to finalize it,” said Smucker.
The SEP, if successful, will grow the student body by expanding in three main areas: growing academic programs, growing athletic programs, and adding co-curricular programs. “Our hope,” said Smucker, “is that by Fall of 2020, we will be somewhere between 1150 and 1200 students.” The undergraduate population is currently around 940.
“There’s some new [academic] programs coming online this fall. The engineering program started this year. We have twelve engineering students this year that would probably not be here if we didn’t have the engineering program. We’re looking to expand some additional programs this coming fall,” said Smucker. The university also plans to expand existing academic programs that they feel have the potential to attract more students, or pillar programs. “[Pillar programs] are programs that we think have room for growth and that if given more attention by marketing and admissions, that we could [expand] those programs,” Smucker said. “We are in the middle of doing some background work on that. There’s a committee called the Faculty Enrollment Committee that has been working at this, and in two weeks, we’ll make the decision on which programs we’re going to emphasize.”
The consultant who worked on the SEP recommended an expansion of the Music Department. “We did research. We looked into other schools. All of them have said that offering participation scholarships helps recruitment for the university as well as benefits their Music programs. But the bigger picture is that it brings students into the university,” said Music Department Chair Joan Griffing.
The SEP also calls for the expansion of EMU’s athletic programs. “We are adding a Men’s [Basketball reserve] team next year and we added a Men’s Baseball reserve program a couple years ago,” Smucker said. The Athletic Department also plans to add a Women’s Lacrosse team with 22 players for fall of 2018 and bring back Men’s and Women’s Tennis in 2018, adding 20 students.
The next addition the SEP calls for is co-curricular programs, which are non-academic programs that in some way supplement the academic experience at EMU. Smucker gave the example of creating a mountain biking program. “Nothing for sure about that,” Smucker cautioned. “That’s just an example of a potential way in which we could use what’s here in the valley.”
Smucker says that the recent budget cuts and the SEP aren’t related. “[The budget cuts] are a short-term [problem] … The hope is that the expanded enrollment will help [alleviate] the budget problems,” Smucker said.
Students can expect to see new programs cropping up over the next few years as the SEP goes into effect. It is the hope of the administration that these new programs, whether they be academic, athletic, or co-curricular, will increase enrollment at EMU and allow the university to expand.