It might not be pretty, but it’s the truth: Central Michigan University is facing some very serious issues right now.
On-campus undergraduate enrollment is expected to plummet this semester, between 5 and 7 percent from last fall. Because of that, the university is deep in the red, facing a $12 million general fund deficit and a $6 million auxiliary fund deficit, which in turn resulted in a significantly smaller budget and could potentially lead to cuts or hiring freezes for departments across the university.
Big changes are afoot at CMU as it simultaneously tries to fix its financial problems and retain and attract students.
It’s likely to be a complicated and time-consuming process, but it’s imperative that CMU makes sure current students, not anyone else, are foremost on everybody’s minds when it comes to deciding what steps to take.
While the university has repeatedly pointed toward decreased high school graduation rates as the primary cause of the enrollment drop, they’re combatting it with some of the largest marketing efforts in recent years.
In 2010, the university’s advertising expenses barely exceeded $40,000. Today, the budget is set at more than $1 million, and we’ve spent more than 80 percent of it – and that’s just for the main campus.
In January 2012, CMU engaged in strategic enrollment planning for the first time.
President Ross says the changes were not a matter of waiting for a problem to arise – but were a matter of significant changes in leadership, philosophy and direction. But as enrollment and the budget wither on the vine, perhaps these questions could have been addressed in a more preemptive fashion.
Sure, the first thing on everyone’s mind is, “how can we attract more students?”
But throwing money away by updating already new buildings, like the proposed $20 million expansion of the still-new Health Professions Building, is not a viable answer. While it is important to move forward, starting new projects might not be in the university’s best interest for the next two or three years.
Attracting out-of-state students is also a concern.
According to Ross, 95 percent of CMU students are from Michigan. What does CMU bring to the table in terms of attracting non-Michigan natives? Nice-looking buildings?
CMU is a regional school, and it’s important that we recognize that.
Out-of-state recruitment, particularly in the Midwest, is important to keep in mind, but it shouldn’t necessarily consume a significant percentage of our marketing budget. Graduates from Illinois aren’t going to come to CMU because Anspach Hall has a new entranceway.
If they decide to come, it will be largely because of our academic programs – and those, as always, need to remain our focus.
Global campuses have been a talking point, but compared to the income generated by the main campus, they become irrelevant.
The point is the university is the gateway to the professional world. Students work hard, craft their talents and make professional connections. The administration is given money to use not to promote themselves, but rather its students. It’s time for CMU to re-evaluate where money is being spent.