With the 2016-17 academic year now in full swing, we want to provide an overview of a few key trends across the University. Though enrollment numbers are still coming in and subject to change as the fall term progresses, we can share some key points that reflect strategic progress in some areas and continued tactical challenges in others.
At the home campus in Webster Groves, enrollment for new students looks slightly up and exceeding budget targets, as is enrollment of freshmen minority students. Our freshman class of students is more diverse and more academically qualified, with their ACT composite increasing to 24.65 from 24.1 the previous year.
Amid challenging degree-seeking demographic realities in the St. Louis region, we believe these markers are indicative of concerted, collaborative efforts, extending from the academic development of programs that compel these students to choose Webster, to the enrollment management and marketing efforts that make them aware of this great university.
In particular, the School of Communications should be commended for having the most undergraduate students of any school or college on the Webster Groves campus. Its Games and Video Game Design program is one of the fastest growing majors at Webster; the Animation program remains strong; and the newly merged and redesigned Film, Television & Video Production major is now the top major in the School of Communications. New programs like the degree in Sports Communication also hold promise for continued growth.
The Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts remains a national leader and has also experienced strong enrollment. Its continued success is augmented by new programs like Songwriting and Music Direction for Musical Theatre, which capitalize on existing strengths and strategic partnerships, add unique-to-the-region programs to our offerings, and have attracted students without requiring major new investment.
Other undergraduate areas of growth include recently developed programs in biological sciences and criminology, while at the graduate level the Cybersecurity program continues to grow in leaps across the global network. Online offerings also continue to show enrollment growth.
In Webster Groves, on-campus housing is full and construction has begun on essential projects that will make the future better for the University. The Interdisciplinary Science Building will alleviate space needs, answer a decades-long need for new facilities in the sciences and other fields, and provide more state-of-the-art, inviting spaces on campus for faculty and student collaboration. The parking garage expansion will add more than 550 parking spaces by the end of the academic year and enable more activity to be focused at a major hub of the campus. Together these two projects will allow us to serve more students, and better serve those we already count among our student body.
As we all know, preparing successful graduates does not stop with recruitment. Creating and maintaining an inclusive, stimulating and affordable environment is critical for retaining students and delivering on the promise that brought them to our doors. The strategic plan, Global Impact for the Next Century, posits that ensuring exceptional implementation and outcomes is a key element for delivering a global student-centered experience. We applaud the members of our community for keeping these goals in mind through diligent attention to the academics, campus life, co-curricular and operational aspects of the student experience.
Nonetheless, retention remains a persistent challenge, with many factors affecting students’ choice and ability to remain with us and afford the steps needed for degree completion. We know many in our community are working hard to address retention, and initiatives such as the “TAP” (Transitions and Academic Prep) program can serve as an inspiration and a model for how to help students succeed to graduation.
Begun in 2011 with a pilot of 12 conditionally admitted students in Webster Groves as part of the larger Transitions program, TAP has grown to include 36 conditionally admitted students per year, a majority of them identifying as racial or ethnic minorities and about half coming to us as first-generation college students. Impressively, retention rates for the nearly 150 students in TAP since 2011 now surpass that of fully admitted incoming students.
Beyond the St. Louis region, we continue to experience enrollment challenges for graduate programs in metropolitan and military locations. The underlying causes vary by location and demographic, but the shortfall in on-ground enrollments at these campus locations poses continued strain on our finances and will require corrective actions. The extent of these adjustments is being evaluated and will be further communicated as enrollment and respective tuition revenues are being reconciled.
We continue to monitor enrollment at international campuses as we align their operations and strengthening their academics. We must grow enrollment and reach in these areas to truly leverage the capacity of each site and the entire network to serve students as a global university.
The strategic plan is designed to identify and respond to such challenges quickly and with the ability to adapt mid-course. Through mission-focused collaboration and sharing of best practices throughout the network, this worldwide community can answer these challenges in ways that match the best of what Webster has to offer with the demands of the modern student.
Despite changing dynamics in higher education, Webster University’s global mindset and its capacity to leverage this network to create unique, innovative offerings endures. On that note, we are pleased to report that the Athens campus, which has already attracted students from other institutions via the WINS study abroad partnership program, has now been approved by the Greek government to offer full undergraduate and graduate programs.
As we move forward and look to a successful 2016-17, we encourage our entire community to continue the kind of collaboration, critical introspection and open dialogue that results in actionable and innovative ideas like those mentioned here.
Thank you for your dedication and commitment to Webster University.
|Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble, Ph.D.
|Julian Schuster, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President
Chief Operating Officer