Emporia State’s enrollment rate has dropped again.
Following a two-year trend, figures released by the Kansas Board of Regents last Tuesday showed that ESU took a 4.6 percent hit in fall enrollment. Last fall, enrollment figures had decreased eight-tenths of a percent, and in fall 2009, they were down by about 1 percent.
Of the seven regents schools, ESU currently has the lowest enrollment rate, 5,976 students, a 286 student decrease from last year’s 6,262.
This most recent decrease has the administration on alert.
“We’re concerned,” said Jim Williams, associate provost for enrollment management and vice president of strategic partnerships. “We had a sense, based on three very large graduation classes and not as large recruitment classes the last three years, that we were going to at some point hit this point.”
Williams said that this knowledge coupled with the recession and other factors like scholarship resources for students, the administration knew an enrollment decline was on the way.
As a result of the decrease, a tuition loss of $500,000 will have fiscal implications, according to memo released by President H. Edward Flentje last Tuesday.
The administration is working to make small cuts in the operating budget to make up for lost tuition revenue, but Williams said budget allocations for student wages will be protected from the reductions.
Still, Williams said “the sky is not falling” for ESU. As an institution, he said there is nothing “wrong” with the university.
But one of the main factors that led to the enrollment decrease was the lack of an aggressive advertising strategy.
“We’ve been our own worst enemy in saying who we are and what we stand for and the quality of the excellence we have at a fairly affordable price,” Williams said.
Last spring, the marketing department launched the campaign “Empowered by E” in an effort to reshape the university’s image as an attractive institution.
Williams said the campaign is “leaving no stone unturned” by making use of television media, billboards across the state and other less traditional means of marketing through the use of social media outlets like Facebook.
Gwen Larson, assistant director of marketing and media relations, said the campaign is now being used to target new audiences of high school seniors, but the results of the campaign will not be seen until next fall’s enrollment figures are released.
“It will be another year before we see the fruits of what we put in place last January,” Larson said.
ESU is also working to retain students, Williams said, by looking for opportunities to offer new degree programs and partnering with the ESU Foundation to sustain scholarships. On-campus housing is also under review.
“We have a campus that we should be proud of,” Williams said, “but we don’t have a culture of bragging about why you should be here, and our biggest competitors, KU and K-State, do have a culture of doing that.”
Another factor in the enrollment decrease is the changing landscape of Kansas’ rural populations.
Larson said traditionally, students generally come from smaller towns because the university’s size is comfortable for those accustomed to a smaller population.
But populations in rural areas are also on the decline, and as a result Larson said the marketing department is now focusing on recruiting students from more urban areas like Johnson County.
In light of ESU’s trend of decreasing enrollment, Williams said he is “optimistic” for the future of the university and that students are welcome to share their own ideas to remedy the situation with the administration.
“My door’s open,” Williams said. “Students are part of the solution too.”