Board of Trustees / Top Stories / University

Johnson presents new challenges, solutions for dwindling enrollment

VP of Enrollment and Student Services Steven L. Johnson addresses the CMU Board of Trustees as they meet in the University Center on Thursday September 19, 2013. (Steve Jessmore/Courtesy)

VP of Enrollment and Student Services Steven Johnson addresses the CMU Board of Trustees at their formal session Thursday morning in the President’s Conference Room of the Bovee University Center. (Steve Jessmore/Courtesy)

Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services Steven Johnson has identified three major challenges on campus that, if addressed, might have a hand in upping Central Michigan University’s appeal to prospective students.

Johnson’s long-awaited, comprehensive enrollment management plan points to an outdated financial aid policy, lack of faculty outreach and an overwhelming student-to-counselor ratio as factors for CMU’s decaying enrollment. Implementation of the plan is scheduled to begin in the 2014-15 academic year.

Previously, university officials pointed to a reduction in high school graduates coming from local area public and private K-12 schools as the biggest issue affecting freshman enrollment.

“Retention is a big piece (to this),” Johnson said. “There’s no secret that it costs far more for us to recruit students than it does to retain them, and that means we have to be more intrusive. We can’t be reactive. We have to forge relationships with students at all levels so that we understand and build a level of trust and support.”

In terms of financial aid, Johnson said the university has not revisited the policy on merit-based performance awards in quite some time.

“I double checked our files, and we have not reviewed our financial aid philosophy in more than a decade,” Johnson said. “And as many of you know, a lot has changed over a decade from an economic perspective.”

The current financial aid philosophy states students can only receive monies for academic performance when they first enter the CMU framework as either freshmen or transfer students. For students already deep in the fold, Johnson said, it is impossible to apply for these types of awards, even if they are excelling academically.

This odd bylaw, Johnson said, could be a deciding factor for late-in-the-game students who decide whether to leave CMU for another, more affordable academic institution.

“Fortunately and unfortunately, college cost has become a considerable factor in recruitment and retention,” he said. “And how you best control college cost is through financial aid. We want to incentivize students who are successful academically.”

By changing this policy and finding a way to offer these scholarships to students with GPAs of 3.0-3.5 or higher, Johnson mused that it could keep many of its need-based students on board.

For Trustee Sarah Opperman, the fact that financial aid policy had not been evaluated in a decade was troubling, as was the proposed date of implementation.

“That seems to me is going to be a critical component to this,” Opperman said. “We don’t have to wait for the next fiscal year to start (these solutions). Let’s not wait for another cycle.”

Regarding counseling, Johnson’s report identified the ratio of students to professional and academic counseling staff is nearly 1,000-to-one – an admission of how thinly spread the counseling department has become.

Although the deans of each college played a more active role in professional and academic counseling, five full-time employee positions were created over the summer to ease counseling struggles. Johnson’s plan would work to narrow that ratio down to 600-to-one – the ideal ratio, he said, would be 300-to-one.

If the plan is implemented and that ratio is not drastically decreased, Johnson said hiring new counseling staff is an option on the table.

Lastly, faculty outreach to prospective and existing students is marked as a major challenge facing the university. Historically, Johnson said, CMU’s faculty members have rarely been forced to engage in the recruitment process. Under his plan, faculty members’ experience, personalities and qualifications would be used as a marketing tool.

“By leveraging our faculty, we can connect to students on a much more personal basis,” he said. “Not only would faculty (members) be asked to guide and implement programs, but they’ll be asked to build better relationships with our students as we move forward. The response from faculty I’ve received on this has been positive. Those who I’ve spoken with are ready and awaiting instruction.”

Although these core challenges and their solutions potentially represent a more focused approach, Board of Trustees Chairman Brian Fannon stressed the importance of Johnson’s plan working.

“If you do this and the retention rate doesn’t improve, we’ve lost,” he said.

16 Comments

  1. Old Admissions Office Staff says:

    Great plan! When I worked in the admissions office a major problem was faculty. They took a lot time to respond to requests and answer important questions for incoming students. They also did not like to attend admission events without a fuss or sent someone that knew nothing about the department. Students are selecting CMU for the professors and departments NOT the admissions staff. I know faculty have a ton to do already, but they need to help in admissions too. Also, the pay for admissions staff is crazy. They are paid at the poverty line. You may for what you get BOT and trustees.

    • Sherry Knight says:

      Dear “Old Admissions Office Staff” — CMU faculty from across campus are responding proactively and eagerly to the enrollment challenge. As an alum and a relatively recent new member of the CMU team, I am reminded every day of why I chose CMU – both times.

  2. Has anybody considered the stricter drinking rules surrounding tailgate and other things that used to be staples in the college experience. Not to mention the universities anti Greek organization stance the last few years using any excuse to get chapters suspended and removed from campus. Some incoming freshman see this and choose to go to other universities that don’t have these negative policies. In the past few years central has been implementing and enforcing rules to restrict what used to be part of a college experience. I remember when Central used to be considered a party school in the late 80′s and throughout the 90′s.

    Not that these things are the only things and experiances that central is known for, they have very good academic programs. I have received two degrees from Central and am a very successful CPA.

    Also, my personal opinion is that residents of Mount Pleasant take the students for granted and do as much as they can to get students in trouble and prevent them from enjoying there time in Mount Pleasant and doing other activities. Without the college students Mount Pleasant wouldn’t exist, it is first and foremost a college town.

    An example of this would be students living on main street or Fraternities receiving Nuisance tickets on welcome weekend this year because of complaining neighbors. Those student apartments and fraternity houses have been there for over 30 years and the residence knew what they were signing up for when the moved in next to one of these apartments/houses.

    I think that the things mentioned above have something to do with the decline as students seek other schools that don’t frown upon such activities and organizations.

    Also, the tuition prices are through the roof and more students are considering a 2 year junior college for prerequisite courses to cut down on the cost of college.

    • I think this is a highly ignorant post Ben. I think your opinion has merit. Meaning it has something to do with why some people leave but if you leave a university because of the tailgate policy you weren’t their for the right reasons. I hate the tailgate policy but that has been modified since it was first changed as they realized they went too far. As far as the anti greek stance if you’re referring to the Delta Chi stuff they got what they deserved. Other than that greek life was not for me so I am not sure how other ones are treated.

      I think this plan is a good start but the university needs to find ways to be more efficient with it’s money to stop raising tuition in addition to financial aid increases based on merit. CMU has the 3rd highest tuition in the state for a public University and it’s not near the 3rd best academic education overall. Central has a good business college and education program but other than that I don’t think we rank highly in anything else.

      There are obviously plenty of changes that could be made but that’s my take.

  3. It could be something to do with people like me.

    I am a recent grad and have informed every parent and kid that asks for my advice that CMU has lost nearly all its value. I imagine I cost the university 2 applicants this year, another the next, and about a dozen when all my sibling’s kids get to highschool age. It’s not that I’m doing this out of anger or spite. It’s just good advice for anyone who has another option.

    When I started it was okay. It offered a not-too-bad education at a best-in-class price. Now it offers a worse education than it did before and has little difference in price compared to better options.

  4. Professfor B says:

    Does anyone else notice that Dr. Johnson is the VP of Admissions but is blaming the faculty for not being involved enough in recruiting?

    Which area is CMU going to ease up on their faculty in to give them time to become recruiters? Teaching? Research? Service?

    I think perhaps Cmich should consider getting rid of their top heavy administration to pay for some reasonable recruiting programs that don’t include sending out your faculty to do vaudeville acts.

    • If you work for CMU, you should be a recruiter. Brining good students in and keeping them is not just good for them, but good for everyone that gets to work at the university. That just makes good sense. I don’t work for the university, but I have a granddaughter attending. When I’m out and a bright student-age person waits my table, I ask, “do you go to CMU?” “No, you should think about it, my granddaughter will have her Masters Degree this year and she’s only attended for 5 years because of a program they offer.”

      If you can’t sincerely say things like that with joy, then maybe find a better fit. You have to believe in what you’re selling.

      Sour grapes can never make good wine; sometimes, not even a good vinegar.

      • With all due respect, mam, we at the university have defined responsibilities. I am not against faculty passing a good word. But by your logic, if I work for CMU I should also act as a safety officer and a maintenance person, cashier, etc. etc.

        The job of recruiting belongs to the admission office, not the faculty.

        • Florence Schneider says:

          Sorry, Jack, but the “It’s Not My Job,” excuse has been discredited in the business world for a while.

          Step-up and help as your counterparts seem to eagerly do at competing universities.

  5. CM-Life has a credibility crises. Address it head by replacing the reporters and editors who are so biased that they cannot be objective.

  6. More academic advisors should be a key to improving retention. I have had three children and three nephews and nieces attend CMU and my experience tells me that alleviating shortage of counselors is certainly a good start. The financial aid plan to expand availability to those already at CMU is also a positive step.
    That being said, I am not sure these steps alone are enough to substantially close the recruiting gap with other nearby universities.
    I would suggest CMU look internally to our marketing and communications faculty for new and innovative ways to recruit. CMU seems to overlook our greatest resources (faculty) when making decisions (remember,for example, the CMU logo fiasco).
    Perhaps convening a summit of faculty from these and other appropriate disciplines to brainstorm new approaches and social media links might stimulate new ideas as well.

  7. Ben Smith, we want CMU to be know for it’s academics, volunteerism, and community programs. We have to also respect the community that welcomes us in.

    Stricter drinking policies help keep students safe from more violence, mob outbreaks, and substance abuse which keeps them from what they should be doing at college — attending classes, getting involved on campus, and making the world a better place.

    CMU is not anti Greek. Our philanthropic greek organizations do a great job making the world a better place, and offer a place for students that need a strong support network.

    There are things that need fixing on campus — increasing the partying is not one of them!!

  8. That is all we need as faculty, one more task shoved down our throat by the administration. Which one of tens of our duties such as teaching, research, service, advising, grading, serving on committees and task forces, assessment, etc. etc. etc. are we supposed to give up.

    • Florence Schneider says:

      Maybe give-up picketing at football games like you did in 2011. Gee, THAT really helped recruiting and retention, didn’t it?

  9. michmediaperson says:

    What Johnson and Warriner Hall discovered is what I’ve been saying for the past decade.

    1. Cut staff and faculty, get out of the research business and LOWER tuition. If financial aid is the #1 variable, then by cutting costs and LOWERING TUITION will give every student true financial aid which will skyrocket enrollment.

    2. By getting faculty out of research, they can spend 22 hours weekly in short staff meeting and probably 18 hours a week in their offices counseling current students and recruiting potential students via the phones, email, skype, Go To Meeting, etc.

    This is what Johnson, Knight and Ross should do. My plan would work.

    Their plan will fail.

  10. Ben,
    As a recent graduate I completely agree with you. Tailgates foster school spirit. It should be a place for students, alumni and parents to have a good time. Stricter rules didn’t make for less drinking it just made less students show up to the stadium. Instead of coming together students are spread across apartment complexes. Mt. Pleasant is a college town if you lose the sense of school spirit than there is not much left. Like you said it is a part of the college experience.
    Adding more responsibilities to professors while demoting them from professor to lecturer so that you can give them a pay cut, even after being announced professors of the year, is just going to drive the good professors away. They are already overworked and underpaid.
    I worked as a mentor in the local schools, we took select students on a tour of central to see the programs we offer, to meet professors and to get a feel for the campus. Admissions refused to pay for the lunches of the high schoolers on tour as well as the cmu students who volunteered to give the tour, something they do every year. After about a week of back and forth they finally agreed to give half the lunches, if the entire group sat through a half hour presentation from one of the admissions members.
    I loved my time at central but with the way things are now, if it wasn’t for a select few professors I don’t know if I could advise anyone to enroll now.

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