Staben seeks to increase enrollment, improve UI finances
The key to financial success at the University of Idaho comes in two words: increase enrollment, according to President Chuck Staben.
“There really is one answer, and only one answer to solving the money problems at the University of Idaho — that’s grow enrollment,” he said, answering a question from a senator at a Faculty Senate meeting before the holiday break. “There is another approach by the way, I would call it the death spiral approach.”
Staben said his goal to increase undergraduate enrollment by 50 percent to address funding challenges at UI. He said he would be happy to start with a 5 percent enrollment increase next academic year.
UI enrollment has stalled around 12,000 students over the last 5 years, a number Staben said needs to grow for UI to be financially stable.
“That is lower than the state needs it to be and it’s lower than the institution needs it to be,” he said.
Besides emphasizing enrollment, Staben gave senators a break down of the university’s budget and presented UI’s priorities heading into the legislative session in January.
With an anticipated enrollment increase, Staben said UI would need to maintain the quality of the student experience by investing in the academic and physical infrastructure of UI.
Along with growing enrollment, he said UI should focus on increasing student retention by illustrating how a college education can lead to a career and a successful future. He said UI is looking to better utilize online education to increase enrollment and serve Idahoans across the state.
Answering questions from senators, Staben said UI is working to develop new recruiting strategies to attract more students.
“I believe we were well behind on enrollment management practices at this university — well behind,” he said. “And we’re making five years of progress this year and we have another 10 years of progress to go.”
Staben said UI moved the Envision Idaho recruiting event from Friday to Saturday to allow more students and their families to participate. As a result, he said the change of dates doubled prospective student participation.
For the first time, Staben said UI’s enrollment office trained campus tour guides. He said it was an example of a simple process change having a large impact.
Staben said events like Envision Idaho are key to increasing enrollment because it allows prospective students to explore the campus.
“It will sell itself if we sell it properly,” he said.
Staben said UI is changing the way it distributes financial aid, with the hopes of attracting more students. He said UI moved up the date to notify students of financial aid offers as a way to increase communication to prospective students and their families.
Even providing limited financial aid to high school students with lower GPAs could help persuade students to attend UI, Staben said.
With the changes in financial aid and recruiting techniques, Faculty Senate Chair Marty Ytreberg said UI has taken steps in the right direction to increasing enrollment.
Ytreberg said increasing enrollment would not be an overnight fix, but he anticipates more faculty members would be enthusiastic about the changes once they’re shown the evidence of the small changes working.
Looking ahead to the legislative session, Staben said the top legislative priority would be a 4 percent employee salary increase, which would result in $4.2 million in funding for UI alone. He said the State Board of Education endorsed the 4 percent salary increase as their top legislative priority.
Staben said UI must convince lawmakers a college education leads to economic development, prosperous citizens and jobs within their communities. He said if they convince lawmakers, higher education in Idaho might receive more funding and support.
“The state does not care about your salary, OK, you do and I do, they don’t … We have to connect the dots,” he said.
Staben said UI should focus on increasing institutional revenue through enrollment in addition to relying on support from the Legislature. For example, Staben said 140 additional UI students would bring in enough revenue for a 1 percent salary increase. Regardless of where the money comes from, he said UI must reverse the trend of low salaries for employees to prevent attrition.
“We cannot buy the loyalty of our faculty, but we can lose it if we undercompensate,” he said.
Yet, he said a rapid funding increase from the Legislature is unlikely given conservative nature of the state government.
Ryan Tarinelli can be reached at email@example.com