President Davies addresses enrollment decline in open letter to CMU

CMU President Robert Davies gives a statement during the Board of Trustee formal meeting on Dec. 6 in the Presidents Conference Room.

In an open letter to the Central Michigan University community published Friday afternoon, President Robert Davies addressed the university's declining enrollment by outlining causes and offering ideas on how the university can improve.

CMU enrollment for Fall 2018 dropped 7 percent from the previous year.

The university has seen a 10-year decline of nearly 21 percent, with a trajectory that has steepened in the past five years, Davies said. 

In his President's Report at the Jan. 15 Academic Senate meeting, Davies announced CMU has lost market shares in Michigan by more than 3 percentage points, especially in metro Detroit and the Grand Rapids area. He cited this loss as a major key in CMU's enrollment decline. 

To combat this, Davies proposed in his letter that the university recapture lost market share, grow CMU's reach to Michigan's neighboring states and build on recent progress in Illinois, develop a strategy to attract more international students and attract adult learners through online and satellite locations.

Davies stated that enrollment is not only the job of admissions teams, but it also reflects how the public distinguishes CMU from its competitors. 

"Enrollment is the reflection of the university: how the public perceives our strengths, weaknesses and the value we add to students' lives through academic and co-curricular programs," he wrote.

He urged faculty and staff to focus and build upon CMU's strengths: nationally recognized programs in health care, business, STEM, education, an accredited medical school; preparing students not only to find jobs but lead fulfilling lives and being among fewer than 1 percent of U.S. universities with AACSB International accreditation for CMU's College of Business Administration and accounting program. 

He said CMU's shared vision shouldn't aim to be the biggest university, but one which values student success, small classes and a strong sense of community. 

Davies said data shows that there may be yet another decline for the enrollment class of Fall 2019. Recruitment of first-time-in-any-college (FTIAC) students — a leading component of total enrollment — must start 18 months or more before their first semester. 

CMU will focus on returning to a student population of 22,000-25,000. This would include 5,000-6,000 graduate students and 18,000-20,000 undergraduates, Davies said.

He said CMU should also increase the number of countries represented (now 21) and include students from all 50 states (currently missing Louisiana, Rhode Island and Nevada).

Davies said that CMU's problem has been in "closing the deal" with prospective students. 

According to a 2018 National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS report, CMU receives more applications than its peers, and receives ACT/SAT test scores from more students.

CMU's struggle is in converting applicants to enrollments, which is done at a lower rate than the university's peers, Davies said.

He listed actions that CMU will pursue, which include concentrating on next year's FTIAC and transfer class, focusing on a more "personal" recruiting and admissions process, and fortifying CMU's messaging to potential students and families.

It is also a matter of branding CMU as a welcoming university. 

"Every interaction with a student or potential student is a moment to expand our brand," Davies said. "Our actions can and do impact enrollment."

He urged the CMU community to share university news, videos and photos via social media, and wear maroon and gold. 

Davies closed the letter by urging the university to continue this discussion. Enrollment will be a main point of discussion at Board of Trustees committee meetings, set to take place Feb. 13 with a formal session Feb. 14. 

"Enrollment recovery will happen with an unwavering focus on students and boundless passion for CMU," he said. "Together, we can and must make Central Michigan University better than ever. "