SEM Works reveals audit findings to Truman

After spending $154,000 on a strategic enrollment management group, Truman State University will be moving forward and focusing on four problem areas that might be affecting enrollment.

The University hosted a meeting Nov. 8 where SEM Works President and CEO Jim Black and enrollment consultant Kathi Baucom presented their preliminary findings.

After spending a few days on campus and meeting with various focus groups, department heads and faculty members, Black and Baucom proposed three possible scenarios to improve the University’s enrollment. The scenarios included conservative, moderate and aspirational models, all of which looked at different growth plans over the next five years.

The Executive Leadership Team, which consists of the vice presidents and chief information officer at Truman, along with academic deans and other University leaders made the decision to pursue the moderate goal, which assumes master’s enrollment will increase by five students per year, retention rates will increase by 1 percent annually and freshman enrollment will increase by 25 students each year for the next five years.

Furthermore, Black and Baucom pinpointed nine areas where Truman could improve its performance.

They’ve met with all the different groups on campus,” University President Sue Thomas said. “They’re helping to develop plans, and we’re putting together teams right now. This is how Truman is taking control of all of this so that we have a great long-term plan for this institution.

During their presentation, Black and Baucom outlined various hardships facing Truman such as a decline in the liberal arts internationally, a reduction in scholarship awards and a declining number of high school graduates in the Midwest. They also said factors like location, lack of perceived value of a Truman education and an increase in competition for students are working against the University.

University leaders voted in an online poll and picked four out of nine areas they would like to see improvement in — raising awareness and institutional positioning, retention rates, website enhancements and diversifying the enrollment portfolio.

“We actually already have addressed some of the suggested actions, but the short answer as to why some have not been initiated is resources — both dollars and people,” said Regina Morin, vice president for enrollment management. “For example, we have continually worked on the website to increase search and user capabilities, but manpower to focus on the web is limited, and we have not had the resources to redesign the entire site. The site was completely redesigned six years ago, and that is light-years in the web world.”

During the meeting, Black and Baucom explained how each problem could be addressed and emphasized those that University leaders voted to be most critical. For example, Black said while rebranding is important for Truman, it’s also important that Truman emphasize who it is for prospective students and get the word out there.

Regarding the retention rate, the consultants recommended hiring a full-time campus champion who would inspire love of the University, ensuring advisers receive feedback for their efforts, and providing more training and tools for staff and faculty. The presentation ended with Black emphasizing that declining enrollment and retention rates will not be an easy fix and that it will take years for the University to recover from this year’s drop.

Though not the main focus, SEM Works identified an additional five areas Truman could put more time into. These areas included reconsidering how scholarships are packaged, using speed as a strategy, investing in online education, adding positions to improve the institutional research capacity regarding admissions and elevating academic advising.

“A group of administrative, academic and staff leaders voted on these priorities to collectively identify the top three or four to focus on initially,” Morin said. “We can’t address all priorities at once, so it was important to concentrate on those that surfaced as the most immediately important.”