Consulting Firm Recommends USU Eastern Changes

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Despite continued statewide enrollment growth at Utah’s colleges and universities this fall, Utah State University – College of Eastern Utah’s enrollment has dropped 310 students, or 11.8-percent, over 1,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students.

The decrease, along with the fact that the college recently brought in a consulting firm to address the issue, was first reported last week by the college’s student newspaper The Eagle.

The numbers were confirmed by Vice Chancellor for Administration & Advancement Brad King, who reported that the decrease was a near match to the previous year’s increase of 11.07 percent FTE.

USU Eastern Chancellor Joe Peterson was concerned by the sharp decrease.

“I am alarmed,” he said. “We had a nice increase the year before, and as nice as that increase was, this decrease was about the same.”

“We need stability,” Peterson said. “We can’t not know from one year to the next how our enrollments are going to come out.”

Peterson explained that keeping enrollments steady has been complicated by a continued decrease in school-age children in the area.

“Our county’s population is more or less stable over the last three decades,” Peterson related. “It’s about flat, but our school-age population has dropped off by about half.”

The Chancellor understands, though, that those numbers do not tell the whole story. “I think that that has some impact on our enrollment, but we still should be more successful than we were last year.”

Because of those considerations, Peterson and other USU Eastern leaders are considering changes, and those changes will be announced soon.

According to the story from the Eagle, Academic Vice Chancellor Greg Benson said, “After big gains in 2010, this year’s enrollment backslide was sobering. Eastern has been working with an enrollment management consulting firm since before the start of fall semester, and new marketing, recruitment, and retention initiatives are in the works on many fronts.”

Peterson confirmed the statement, reporting that a consulting firm has already been on campus.

“We feel like there’s a great deal of expertise and science in managing enrollments, and we don’t know that our methods are the very best methods,” Peterson said. “In fact, we’re disappointed with the results this year.”

“We suspect we need to sharpen up our methods,” Peterson continued. “These are people who are very experienced and have a great deal of expertise at enrollment strategies. They come in and look at who we are, what we do, what students are in the market, and they recommend ways to improve our performance.”

Peterson said the consulting firm gave a group of general suggestions, and he expects a report with more specific recommendations within the next few weeks.

The enrollment story was a sobering one for the USU Eastern’s young journalists to break. According to Eagle Advisor Susan Polster, several of the paper’s editors, with editing help from two faculty members, worked on the story.

Research began when staff noticed fewer cars in the parking lots around campus, as well as smaller than normal classes.

“Classes that would normally have 30 to 35 students had closer to 20,” Polster said.

Though proud of her students for their work, Polster said she and the writers took no pleasure in reporting what she called “sad news.”

“We are such a good school with such great faculty,” Polster said. “Without students, we lose faculty. We lose another part of the school that doesn’t have to be lost.”

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