A New Strategic Direction for the College

This fall, we have begun working on adjusting our recruitment plan for the College because our current revenue model relies on an unsustainable enrollment strategy. Until now, we’ve expected out-of-state students to make very significant contributions to our total revenue picture. A reduction of that dependence is now inevitable due to national trends in higher education.

As we are seeing in the surveys and in the actual numbers, today’s college student is more tuition aware and debt averse. These students and their families want to ensure a return on investment for the amount of money they are paying for their education. So, we can’t keep raising our tuition year after year if we are to continue attracting the best and brightest students from South Carolina, the country and the world.

Let me break down some of the numbers for you. For our freshman class and transfers, the applications from out-of-state students were the same number as last year, but we did not yield the students we needed. Competition for these students and price cutting of out-of-state tuition by our competitors have flattened this enrollment. Added to this, in some of our prime recruiting areas, we are seeing fewer high school graduates. For example, in the Northeast, there is a projected net loss of 25,000 high school graduates between 2012 and 2022. That means competition for those students will be even fiercer in the years to come.

As such, it’s clear from statistical and strategic points of view that we need to make a course correction in how we move forward.

First, we do this by strategically targeting nontraditional students who have never received, and want to earn, their degree. According to national numbers, these community college transfers and adult degree “completers” represent nearly 20 million people nationwide. These types of students are here now and are also moving into this region daily because of the evolving diversification of Charleston’s economy. For example, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce estimates that 43 people move to Charleston every day; that’s more than 15,000 coming into the area every year.

Of these newcomers, 27% are nontraditional students. They are mostly part-time students – 22 and older working full- or part-time jobs. This is a largely untapped population segment for the College and one that is only growing in size.

These nontraditional students would enable us to focus our growth outward at our North Campus, perhaps in Mt. Pleasant, and also outside of Summerville close to the Nexton community, between I-26 and I-95. These satellite operations can meet an important and growing educational need while making a financial contribution to the College.

In order for us to attract these nontraditional students, we will need to expand program and degree offerings through our School of Professional Studies. So earlier this month, I gave a presentation to the Faculty Senate on some of the recruiting and academic reforms I would like to see take place at the College.

Some of these reforms include:

  • Reducing the age of admission into the School of Professional Studies programs from 24 to 21 – as many promising students are younger than 24.
  • Allowing the transfer of students who have earned college credit elsewhere with a 2.0 GPA into the School of Professional Studies. Currently, students must have a 2.6 GPA, a minimum GPA that we have learned is not realistic.
  • Addressing the minimum number of credit hours a student must have to transfer into the Bachelor of Professional Studies program.
  • Creating an admissions committee for the Bachelor of Professional Studies Program, so that we can better assess the whole person, rather than relying on a GPA cut-off.
  • Adding additional concentrations within the Bachelor of Professional Studies Program.
  • Offering additional undergraduate certificates in such topics as project management, procurement and contract administration.
  • Adding new evening classes in several disciplines – perhaps in computer science, accounting, education, psychology and corporate communication.

I hope the Faculty Senate will consider these reforms. I look forward to working with them and other campus academic leaders on these ideas throughout the academic year.

Next, we must expand our graduate programs according to market needs. Matching real-world demand to student demand and offering these at nontraditional and traditional sites will enhance our student populations as well as our financial bottom line. Our broadened educational approach will prevent other institutions – both public and private, for-profit and non-profit – from coming here to set up shop and eventually compete with us for our traditional student base.

We are also initiating a more robust international recruitment strategy. Over the next several months, our admissions team will be working with many of our deans and faculty and staff members to develop a plan on how to recruit these students and support their success on campus. We see this as having both a short-term and long-term impact on our recruitment numbers as well as a positive effect on our campus community.

Together, these changes diversify our academic and financial portfolio, so to speak, which will keep us competitive and strong. This evolving enrollment strategy does not mean drastically altering the experience we provide at the College or even the mission of our institution. It simply means altering how we fund our institution and how we make up our student population.