Business as usual

Lizzy Balboa

When 125 prospective students from freshmen orientation did not register for classes this fall, Grand Valley State University Associate Vice President Joe Godwin recognized a financial problem: that is, a loss of about $1.25 million.

“Those entering freshmen bring us some $40 million in tuition revenue, another $30 million in housing revenue, and that’s before we get to all the other stuff they spend money on here,” Godwin said. “It’s not a trivial amount of money.”

This issue inspired the Provost’s Office to conduct a series of meetings this week to solicit professors’ opinions on enrollment and budget planning. The meetings were driven by a concern for university revenue, which declines proportionally with retention.

“There is a link between enrollment and our ability to plan budgets, and just to try to fit that together a little bit, we get money from primarily two places. One is tuition, which is enrollment times tuition rate, plus state appropriations,” Godwin said. “We’re really dependent on tuition. Over 80 percent of our budget is tuition. The rest is state appropriations.”

Godwin said the number of new students has been increasing while retention has declined. “Retention becomes really important for us for budget purposes,” he said. “We either need to retain them or we need to bring in new students to continue (to make up) a significant part of our budget from year to year.”

And retention no longer means “freshmen to sophomores”—it starts with orientation before freshman year.

While the reasons for student withdrawal are unknown, Godwin speculated that students might be discouraged if they are not able to get the classes they need. For this fall semester, lower division courses were, on average, 94 percent full.

Godwin said one problem being monitored is that classes tend to fill before the last few days of orientation, leaving some of the late attendees with limited scheduling options to fit in all required courses. Administrators are concerned that this could affect prospective students’ impression of GVSU.

“One thing that could help free up both space and people is to make sure our curriculum is lined up right,” Godwin said. He encouraged departments to evaluate their curriculum requirements—consider eliminating unnecessary labs, discussions and even courses—and cut down the time required for each course, which would make it easier for students to schedule multiple courses.

The Provost’s Office also advised departments to rework their curriculum guides to be less structured; this means that students wouldn’t feel pressured to get into certain classes for their freshman year, but could instead wait until later in their college career. The implementation of this solution could be as simple as rewriting the suggested student schedule for each major to be year-to-year rather than semester-to-semester.

Loosening the restrictions, though, led to discussions about the importance of prerequisites, which departments are also encouraged to evaluate.

Some professors at the meeting proposed hybrid courses—which allow some portions to be taken online and others in the classroom—as a solution to clear up scheduling problems. Others suggested taking away program “emphases” or de-emphasizing double majors or minors to take away the stress of scheduling everything.

In the end, Godwin said it’s the students who pay the price for their inability to register for—and ultimately complete—their required courses, and this factor “makes it a little easier for them to bail out.”

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