CHRISTIAN CARRION — Staff Writer
For the past 10 years, part-time enrollment at Southern Connecticut State University has steadily decreased. This drop in enrollment is an issue that threatens to further tighten the university’s budget and make changes to the way Southern operates.
According to Marianne Kennedy, interim provost at Southern and vice-president of academic affairs, Southern registered 1,172 part-time undergraduate students last fall, compared to 2,269 at Eastern Connecticut State University, a school which is of comparable size to Southern. In the fall of 2001, Southern registered 1,776 part-time undergraduate students. Six hundred and four students may not seem like an enormous difference, but if each of those students were to take one three-credit course at the current price (including fees) of $1,264, that’s over $760,000 the university is missing out on.
“Every student helps in terms of tuition,” said Kennedy. “We serve the people of Connecticut. Not everyone can go to school full-time, and it’s important that we provide programs that people need.”
James Blake, executive vice-president and former vice-president of the school’s finance administration, agrees.
“Part-time student enrollment contributes significant revenue,” said Blake. “If enrollment were to continue to drop, we would certainly have to look at our current operations. If enrollment isn’t there, that supports operations. We would have to adjust accordingly.”
The problem and its effects are clear, but one of the main questions—why?—remains. Blake said he believes that a number of factors can be attributed to Southern’s low part-time enrollment.
“Marketing,” said Blake, “is a big one. I think we need to do a better job of getting the word out off-campus about our programs.”
Kennedy agrees, saying “there are a lot of colleges and universities in the area, and a number of them are marketing aggressively. I’m sure we’ve lost a few students to them. We put lots of emphasis on our full-time students, but we pay less attention to part-time students in terms of marketing.”
A few years back, listeners in the local area could hear radio advertisements for Southern on several FM stations. The eventual decrease in radio advertising, said Blake, was brought on by an experimental survey conducted during one particular summer session.
“We wanted to find out who our summer students are,” said Blake. “We sent out surveys to those students, and we found out that most of those students were already ours—that is to say, full-time students at Southern taking part-time classes in the summer. We asked them how they found out about summer classes at Southern, we saw that it wasn’t from the radio—it was from word of mouth, or the newspaper.”
Southern now occasionally advertises on the radio during the spring and summer, and also rents advertising space on local city buses and billboards overlooking the Quinnipiac River Bridge.
Besides lack of aggressive marketing, Kennedy also attributes the low enrollment rate to the recent closing of a number of degree programs at Southern.
“We had a program for nursing anesthesiologists that closed recently,” Kennedy said. “Also, our masters in urban studies program isn’t accepting any more new students—they’ve actually lost some faculty.”
With all of this in mind, Southern’s administration has set about making the university more attractive to prospective part-time students. Part of this, Blake said, is programming events that are more accessible to part-time students whose schedules do not permit them to be on campus in the evening.
Charlee Emple, an undeclared student at Southern, said going to school part-time makes it easier for her to balance her job and social life without having to worry about the huge workload that being a full-time student comes with.
“School stresses me out,” Emple said. “But if more activities were offered during the day, I’d want to stick around a little longer before going to work.”
Other, more radical changes to long-standing policies are also being considered.
“We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming,” said Kennedy, “and we’ve gotten about 70 different ideas brought up to our zoning, planning, and budget committees.”
Using students and alumni to recruit at local high schools instead of admissions staff, increasing the number of online courses for students with tight schedules, offering discounts to those students who take multiple courses—these are all ideas Kennedy said their brainstorming sessions have produced.
These ideas are made to increase enrollment across the board, thereby increasing revenue for the university, but the ultimate goal is to bring part-time students to Southern.
“We really need to look at the needs of our part-time students,” Kennedy said. “Not all students are the same—some are working adults, some have home lives to attend to, some have kids, some have no money. These students are more likely to go to school part-time or take online courses, since it would be more conducive to their schedule.”
“We are trying to see what we need to make our courses more robust,” Blake said. “Our programs are excellent. We just need to work harder at meeting the needs of prospective students.”