EDITORIAL: Enrollment projections provide hope for CMU's future

Although the fall semester began with concerns about enrollment and a budget shortfall, it appears that remedial efforts by Central Michigan University might be brought to fruition by next year.

Last semester, 2,963 new freshmen enrolled at CMU – marking the smallest freshman class since 1997. While our overall enrollment was down 2.2 percent from last year’s total, other schools in the state reported record-high figures at the beginning of the year.

Accordingly, our budget was reduced to reflect a smaller number of students on campus. Between the general and auxiliary funds, CMU was down $15 million from last year.

While the overall decreasing number of high school graduates received the initial blame, the success of other universities in the state left CMU with room for improvement.

Problems were evident. What's more important, however, was the way the university worked to alleviate the situation.

In August, University President George Ross said CMU needed to invest in priorities to keep the university moving forward.

Although his priorities have warranted a fair share of criticism from the campus community – including our editorial board – it appears CMU has made some productive decisions.

We appreciate it.

Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services Steven Johnson – who also received substantial criticism – laid the groundwork for rectification through the creation of a strategic enrollment management plan.

Through its out-of-state student outreach and emphasis on merit-based scholarships, CMU has been able to recruit heavily and offer more money to those who choose to enroll on campus.

Although our university touts its native Michigan student base, reaching out to prospective students in other states was a necessary move to increase enrollment in a competitive market.

While this year’s $6-million increase to merit-based scholarships does not affect students who have already enrolled, broadening the baseline for new students makes college a more affordable and accessible option for prospective students.

Although we do not believe CMU’s academic standards should be sacrificed to increase enrollment, offering merit scholarships to students with 3.0 GPA – and not only those above 3.5 – was a positive move for our university.

Lowering the standard by half a letter grade allows CMU to be more inclusive to academically successful students without substantially harming our reputation for excellence.

Our marketing efforts have also been aggressively increased. Compared to $41,721 in 2010-11, CMU now spends more than $900,000 on advertising and promotion of our university.

The key to attracting students is to first ensure they are aware of the opportunities that are available to them. The 2010-11 amount is hardly enough to promote CMU within Isabella County. Increasing marketing spending was essential.

At this time last year, a mere 2,221 students applied and paid CMU's $175-deposit fee. Today, more than 3,500 have submitted payment and it appears – at least for now – that we can expect a higher enrollment and a better outcome for next semester.

Thomas Speakman, director for undergraduate admissions, said the university should be taking small steps to increase our on-campus enrollment. We agree.

Citing a sharp increase in admissions in 2010, Speakman hopes to avoid overcrowded residential halls and classrooms with the anticipated additions this year.

Ultimately, having more students equates to more funding and better academic programming for our campus. However, too many students on campus can be just as negative as having too few.

While nothing can be certain until after fall classes have started, it appears CMU is on the right track to making our university more prominent, affordable and accessible to future students.


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