NSU Statement on Declining Enrollment, Layoffs and Budget Controls

Publisher’ Opinion:

The decline in enrollment at NSU starting long before Marcus Jones became president.  Mr. Jones inherited this long-term issue.

The decline in enrollment started long before COVID19 reached the shores of The United States.

Nothing can be solved or repaired without first shining some light on the subject, then accepting that a problem exists and then finally starting the recovery period.

 

From Northwestern State University – Natchitoches
April 29, 2022

Northwestern State University announced a plan to offer retirement incentives to employees who meet retirement eligibility requirements. Classified/Civil Service employees and tenured faculty were notified of the proposal in an email April 28. The measure is in response to a projected decline in student enrollment.

“Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has been uneven and challenges for low-income students, students of color and first-generation students continue to persist,” said NSU President Dr. Marcus Jones. “Nation-wide, more than 1 million fewer students are enrolled in college now than before the COVID-19 began.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Northwestern State recorded enrollment growth for several years because of its affordability, small class sizes, varied delivery of courses, nationally ranked academic programs and excellent student services. Regional schools like Northwestern State also tend to serve more disadvantaged families. NSU has the highest graduation rate of students who receive Pell Grants in Louisiana and also has the largest percentage of Hispanic students for rural-serving institutions in Louisiana.

According to data released in January by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, U.S. colleges and universities saw a drop of nearly 500,000 undergraduate students in the fall of 2021, continuing a historic decline that began in the fall of 2020. Statistics for community colleges indicate even sharper declines in enrollment. Northwestern State’s enrollment has mirrored that pattern, which has battered the university’s finances.

Jones said faculty and staff reduction measures will focus primarily on retirement incentives for eligible employees and not hiring new personnel for positions that are budgeted but unfilled. Northwestern has 863 full-time employees and 282 adjunct faculty for a total of 1,145 personnel.

Administrators have increased focus on recruiting and retention. Despite declines since 2020, NSU has recorded positive growth in student retention, showing a 4.5 percent growth in returning freshman from Fall 2021-Spring 2022 over Fall 2020-Spring 2021, which includes full-time and part-time students.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most students were enrolled in a combination of online and in person classes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, all classes were delivered on-line, and coming out of the pandemic, many students continued to take on-line classes.

“Figures reported to the Board of Supervisors represent a formula in which each student is associated with one and only one instructional site. This is designed to avoid double-counting students. For example, if a student takes seven hours online and has six hours of face to face classes in Natchitoches, that student will be classified as ‘Other/Online,’ rather than ‘Natchitoches,’” Jones explained.

Internally, NSU tracks students associated with course offering in a different way so that course sections and student services can be properly staffed.

“These counts depend more on looking at students who have at least one class on campus, live on campus, participate in athletics, band, theatre, cheer and other activities. The reports to the Board are not designed with this purpose in mind,” Jones said.

According to Director of Enrollment Jana Lucky, some students that participate in events on campus and/or live on campus but take more of their sections online than face to face are considered online or hybrid.

“Hybrid is actually the largest population,” Lucky said. “For example, with preregistered students for Fall 2022, we have 3,958 students registered. Of those, 1,605 are hybrid and 808 are entirely face to face. After freshman orientation this summer that number will grow substantially. I would also consider those students that participate in on-campus events such as student athletes, 300+ member marching band, cheer, dance, pom line, flag line and theater. Those students are all here on campus in one capacity or another. Those groups have not gotten smaller. They have actually grown.”

Meanwhile, NSU’s Development office has ramped up efforts to secure dollars for student scholarships and develop relationships with industry partners that provide scholarships and internships for students entering their respective industries.

Earlier this week, the university announced its affiliation with the University Economic Development Association, an organization that connects universities with private sector businesses to facilitate economic growth in their communities.

“The university’s impact and prominent role in higher education and public service in the region remains enormous even as we face the national enrollment decline and initiate actions to address it,” Jones said.


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