Growing By Design

UMKC unveils Strategic Enrollment Management Plan

Unlike most 80-year-olds, the University of Missouri-Kansas City is in the midst of a growth spurt – and looking to accelerate it.

The university’s current enrollment of more than 16,000 students is up 5 percent over last year, and almost 11 percent since 2007. But UMKC wants to top 20,000 students by 2020 – and they have developed a detailed plan for reaching that goal.

Key elements of the plan include bigger investments in student scholarships and financial aid, enhanced campus life amenities, special efforts to help at-risk students be successful, and more aggressive marketing.

“Academically, we have a lot to offer, and that’s been the case for a long time. Being ranked one of the top 75 universities in the country in the Princeton Review ‘best value’ rankings for two straight years now reflects that. What has held us back, more than anything else, has been not getting the word out about how good we really are,” said Mel Tyler, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, whose staff has prepared the enrollment growth plan.

“And I’ll admit that, 10 years ago, we were behind other schools in terms of residential life and campus amenities. We were offering students a big league education but pairing that with a minor league lifestyle experience,” Tyler added. “That has changed in a big way, and that’s something else we have started shouting from the rooftops.”

Changes in campus life over that span include

  • The opening of a new 110,000-square-foot, $38.3 million Student Union in 2010, featuring student organization spaces, student government chambers, a rooftop terrace, theater, retail food court and expanded university bookstore
  • Two new on-campus residential buildings offering a total capacity of more than 800, added in 2008 and 2009 – the Oak Place Apartments and the Herman and Dorothy Johnson Residence Hall
  • The Stanley H. Durwood Soccer Stadium and Recreation Field, opened in 2009, was designed to add to the residential feeling of the university, providing students with an enhanced intramurals program and other recreational activities; the complex features a fully lighted 850-seat stadium, synthetic turf recreational field, four-lane track, and locker rooms and offices for the Division I men’s and women’s soccer teams, track and field teams, and women’s softball
  • UMKC also made a big move to generate excitement around its most visible Division I sports program. In March, the university hired Kareem Richardson, an assistant coach at national champion Louisville, to lead its men’s basketball program back into contention for conference championships – and back into the hearts of campus and community sports fans.

But perhaps the most significant addition has been the new $7 million Atterbury Student Success Center. The newly-renovated center, which opened in August 2012, is a one-stop-shop for a variety of support services, from financial aid to counseling to academic supports such as advising and the Writing Studio.

The building and its programs exist to ensure that students overcome a variety of obstacles to reach their full academic potential, stay in school and eventually graduate. One of those programs is University College, a new academic unit designed specifically for freshmen who are undecided on a major. The program offers broad, interdisciplinary courses that provide exposure to a variety of academic areas and potential careers, along with skills and interests surveys to help students focus in on goals and make an informed choice about a major. Students who have not declared a major are far more likely to drop out than those who have declared.

“Today we offer a student life experience that is worthy of a university that has multiple Guggenheim, Pulitzer and Fulbright scholars on faculty, earns tens of millions in national-level research grants annually, and has a student-faculty ratio of 12:1,” Tyler said. “Now, we need to make sure people know about it.”

Spreading the Good News

That’s where Tyler’s fellow vice chancellor, Anne Hartung Spenner, comes in. Spenner was hired in 2011 to fill the newly created position of Vice Chancellor for Strategic Marketing and Communications. A graduate of the Executive MBA program at UMKC’s renowned Henry W. Bloch School of Management, Spenner led development of a sophisticated, research-based marketing communications plan that is now underway.

“Our overarching strategy is to create a consistent, ongoing UMKC presence in the minds of high school students, their parents and other community influencers,” Spenner said. “Improvement of UMKC’s image, reputation and resources, all closely linked to Kansas City, is our long-term vision.”

The plan calls for communicating UMKC’s strengths, including the educational and lifestyle advantages of a university in the heart of a major metropolitan business and artistic community; research opportunities for both undergraduates and graduate students; a variety of nationally ranked academic programs; outstanding faculty and a low student-faculty ratio; diversity of students, programs and degree options; membership in the four-campus University of Missouri System; and ample financial aid and scholarships.

“UMKC is Kansas City’s university, and has been for 80 years,” Spenner said. “That is a point of pride for the university, and we want to make sure it will always be a point of pride for the greater Kansas City community as well.”

Toward that end, Spenner’s division crafted a series of well-received and effective campaigns via channels ranging from billboards and television to high school newspapers. Outreach to local and regional news media was enhanced, and a strengthened emphasis on social media yielded a doubling of the university’s Facebook audience and tripled the volume of Twitter followers.

Affordability a Key Strategy

In addition to advertising and marketing, UMKC also took specific steps to make enrollment more affordable. Research indicated that since the Great Recession hit, for many students, cost is a critical factor in the decision of not just which university to attend, but whether to enroll at all. Two key initiatives have been Metro Rate Expansion and the UMKC Advantage Grant.

As part of the Access 2 Success Initiative, designed to open up higher education to more low-income and under-represented student groups, UMKC implemented a new need-based grant program designed to cover the gap between a student’s gift aid and cost of tuition. To be eligible for the UMKC Advantage Grant, students must be Pell-Grant-eligible Missouri residents, and maintain full-time enrollment with a minimum 2.5 GPA. The first year of implementation (2011-2012), UMKC assisted 198 students with a grant, disbursing a total of $199,480. This was a critically important program for demographic reasons: from 2007 to 2012, the number of UMKC students receiving Pell Grants has increased 67.9 percent.

In Fall 2002, UMKC introduced a Metro Rate program for residents of a small group of Kansas border counties. Starting in Fall 2010, UMKC was approved to expand the Metro Rate (equivalent to in-state tuition) to undergraduate and graduate students residing in eleven total counties in Kansas: Atchison, Douglas, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami, Osage, Shawnee, and Wyandotte. Since 2007, enrollment of students from these counties has increased by 80 percent, from 1,196 in 2007 to 2,150 in 2012.

What’s Ahead

A number of programs are in the works to both improve the student experience even more, and to reach out to under-represented groups that offer significant growth potential. These include:

  • Exploring a “regional” tuition rate offering cost savings to students from states other than Kansas that border Missouri
  • Setting up recruitment events in targeted communities such as Springfield, Mo., Wichita, Kan., Omaha, Neb., Dallas and Chicago, involving alumni and current students from those areas
  • Stepping up recruitment efforts in the university’s two largest international sources of students, India and China; as well as Malaysia, considered a prime growth target
  •  Initiating a Spanish-speaking outreach program for Spanish-speaking parents of prospective students in the Kansas City metro area

Another key strategy is to address retention – keeping students in school once they enroll.

“Student success is a core goal at UMKC,” Tyler said. “We have no interest in ‘churn’ – getting people in the door for just a year, or even just a semester, taking their money, and letting them drift away. Stressing student success is both the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do. Young people today look at those statistics and it plays a significant role in their choices.”

The state of Missouri has also started efforts to tie appropriations to state universities to retention and graduation rates.

Still, staying in school can be a challenge for many students. UMKC has been surveying students who withdraw from school since 2007, and the chief reasons have stayed fairly constant. They include

  • Conflict between work and school
  • Home responsibilities were too great
  • Physical problems/illness (personal or family)
  • Not enough money for school
  • Personal problems

The counseling and support programs at the Student Success Center are designed to help students deal with such issues. The university also has a handle on attributes of successful students, and programs are in place to help students achieve those goals as well. Students are more likely to be successful and persist if they:

  • Enroll in and successfully complete at least 12 hours per semester and 24 hours per year
  • Successfully complete at least 80% of their hours
  • Enroll in and successfully complete a college-level math and a college-level English course during their first year

Success Strategies

A key ingredient in improving student success is the development of a new core curriculum for all UMKC students.

“Previously, General Education requirements varied from one academic unit to another; this created problems for students who decided to change majors. These students would have to spend extra time and money catching up, which could be a major discouragement,” said Cindy Pemberton, Deputy Provost for Academic Affairs. “The new General Education Core provides a terrific road map for a student’s educational journey. Students not only will gain the skills and knowledge employers most value for careers after college, but also can be assured that the  General Education program  will help them ‘stay on track’ and make progress toward their degree.”

The new UMKC General Education Core will apply to all new undergraduate students, beginning with the incoming freshman class for Fall Semester 2013. It offers much more than just across the board consistency, however.

While many universities offer some form of mandatory core curriculum, the UMKC Core is unique in that it provides an innovative learning experience for students, employing interdisciplinary courses that are team-taught by faculty. These courses challenge students to think across boundaries in a way that more closely resembles real-world situations, helping them to better prepare for 21st-century careers.

The requirements include three types of courses. Students will take four Focus courses, drawn from these three areas: Arts and Humanities; Scientific Reasoning and Quantitative Analysis; and Human Values and Ethical Reasoning.

Students also complete three “pairs” of complementary classes, called Anchor and Discourse classes. Anchor classes take an interdisciplinary approach to teach students critical thinking, and are designed to impart knowledge that becomes the basis of work done in the paired Discourse class. Discourse Classes give students the opportunity to develop strong speaking and writing skills, using content from the paired Anchor courses.

Another important initiative underway is the development of a new academic advising model, in which advisors initiate contact with students rather than waiting for the student to make the first move. Advisors also set specific goals for each student, monitor their test results, keep tabs on their mood and progress and help students find ways around obstacles. The plan also calls for more careful and detailed evaluation of academic advisors.

Expansion of tutoring and coaching services is also in the works, as well as a data-driven program to identify courses with the highest rates of D and F grades and examine possible course redesigns that could present the material in different ways without diluting the content.

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