Enhanced offerings, broader recruitment, new ways of delivering information help area schools keep pace

 

 

 Area colleges and universities are surviving, even thriving, amid economic turmoil, increased competition, shifting demographics and other trends affecting the higher education marketplace as well as the larger economy.

“I think we’ve weathered the storm pretty well,” says Mark Thompson, senior vice president for academic and student affairs at Quinnipiac University. “We had a substantial increase from 14,000 applicants last year for undergraduate programs to 19,000 [for 2011-12], and we have seen growth in graduate programs consistent with prior recessions.”

University of New Haven President Steven Kaplan is equally upbeat.

“We’re actually doing fine,” he says. “Our fundraising is the highest it’s ever been. Our retention rates are strong and our recruitment rates are strong.”

For fall 2009, UNH had “a record class come in, the largest we’d ever recruited,” Kaplan says. “Last year we were down 100 students because we focused on being more selective and met our goals qualitatively. This year [the incoming class] by far exceeded our goals [by 150 students], and we had another 100 more returning students.”

UHN currently has 6,000 students, including about 4,500 undergraduates, and offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate degrees in arts and sciences, business, criminal justice, engineering and forensic sciences. Its Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science is a major draw, according to James McCoy, UNH’s vice president of enrollment management. “We’re also strong in marine biology and have Grammy award-winning faculty in our music and recording industry programs, which a lot of people don’t know,” he says.

UNH is well known for “experiential” training, where “students have the opportunity learn by doing, through internships and work outside the classroom,” adds McCoy.

At Gateway Community College, enrollment has been growing for more than five years, says Vincent P. Tong, GCC’s director of institutional research.

A recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center suggests the recession's impact on college enrollment has been  “mild” among traditional-age, first-time college students, and rising local enrollment rates are consistent with nationwide statistics.

Gateway President Dorsey Kendrick says her school is getting “more and more” high school graduates and part-time students, who are age “25 and up, juggling jobs, don’t have a lot of time and want to get [school] done.” An increasing number of Gateway students are interested in transferring to four-year colleges, she adds.

GCC offers certificates and degrees in more than 90 fields and draws mostly students mainly from the New Haven area.

Most Quinnipiac students come from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and 22 percent are state residents. International students, “a growing proportion,” account for less than 10 percent, Thompson says, adding they come primarily from Saudi Arabia and China, seeking master’s degrees in health sciences and business.

Most UNH students come from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Thirty percent are state residents.

“In the last four or five years, we have spread our influence over many regions, with strong recruiting in California, Texas, Illinois and Florida,” McCoy adds.

Student demographics are changing, with more students over age 21 and more transferring to the school.

Graduate programs in criminal justice, fire protection and cyber security are gaining traction among international students, and UNH has stepped up recruitment efforts.

“We’re very strong in China, India and the Middle East and we continue to want to attract students from other countries,” McCoy says. “We think there is an opportunity in South America, especially Brazil.”

 

While the pool of college-age students is shrinking, out-of-state competition for high school graduates and older students is intensifying for both bricks-and-mortar and online institutions.

“We are targeting high school students going to college for our undergraduate programs,” says Stanley Zygmunt, a spokesperson for the University of Scranton, a Jesuit school in Pennsylvania. “We have a very strong pool from several states, and Connecticut is one.”

The University of Scranton has been advertising in the Nutmeg State for more than five years using print, outdoor and other media, according to Zygmunt, and more than 100 of its 700 Connecticut alumni live in New Haven County.

The school was among the top ten “Best Regional Universities” in the 2012 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges,” Zygmunt says, adding attractions include its strong pre-med and undergraduate business programs.

Drexel University Online has likewise been trolling for Connecticut students, mainly in Fairfield County, since April 2010, when the school launched its first campaign, using outdoor, radio and print, including posters on Metro North platforms and inside rail coaches.

“We entered the area because we believed the market in that specific demographic matches ours — an adult working professional,” says Drexel senior digital strategist Nadine Ezzat. “A lot of people are going back for master’s degrees.”

The Philadelphia school offers 100 undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs. The most popular include a master’s in library and information science, MBA, several master’s degrees in English and a variety of nursing degrees.

“Since we started, we have seen a significant increase [in Connecticut students] in health care and the IT field,” says Drexel University Online President Ken Hartman.

Drexel is gearing up to launch its partnership program for companies and health care systems in Connecticut. “In exchange for access to their employees, via ‘lunch and learns’ and company newsletters, we offer a discount on tuition, which ranges from five to more than 25 percent,” Hartman explains.

At Quinnipiac, two business school programs, the MBA and Master of Science in Organizational Leadership, an online offering, have grown most rapidly.

Also gaining in popularity are bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing and a new doctor of nursing practice graduate program, Thompson says.

The school also has seen “a significant increase” in non-traditional students, who are adults in their 30s to 50s mainly taking graduate courses.

“They may be out of the workforce because of family obligations, or have lost their job or may have a job but want to advance,” Thompson says. Quinnipiac has plans to expand its online courses to accommodate the needs of such students.

“At the undergraduate level, what we’re doing is making sure students have skills in hand that aren’t immediately obvious to an 18-year-old,” Thompson says. “I think colleges and universities are paying a lot of attention to discipline-specific skills, but in fact what employers value most are much broader skills such as written communication and oral communication ability and quantitative [mathematical] literacy.

“They’re within the courses that we have,” Thompson adds, “but we’re being much more explicit in making sure the students understand the full value of their education.”

Quinnipiac is opening a School of Medicine in fall 2103, “in response to market demand, with an emphasis on need for primary care physicians,” Thompson says, and is “looking at starting an engineering program, which we hope will become a school.”

The university also is considering “new options” to reduce the time it takes to complete degree programs, such as possible dual-degree bachelor’s/MBA program taking five years rather than six to complete.

 

 UNH is expanding its online programs in response to increasing demand from non-traditional students. “We’re hoping in the next six or seven years to offer about 100 [online courses], including whole majors,” Kaplan says. “There’s also increasing demand for hybrid courses, with some on campus and online.” The school also is studying offering programs “onsite in other countries, primarily China.”

One place could be Chongqing, which Kaplan recently visited with Henry Lee. “It’s the biggest city in the world with 34 million people,” he says, “and they’re talking about sending 25 of their senior officers, police chiefs and high ranking administrators here in spring 2012 and providing us space to send our faculty.”

At Quinnipiac, tuition, room and board for undergraduates increased 5.5 percent, from $46,980 to $49,560, for the 2011-12 academic year.

UNH tuition rose around three percent this year, to around $40,000.

Gateway tuition went up 2.3 percent this year, to $3,800 [$4,000 with books], Kendrick says. Of the 7,261 students enrolled in fall 2011 semester, 3,996, or 55 per cent, are receiving financial aid. Student debt is mushrooming, along with student loan defaults, which spiked from 7.0 percent in 2009 to 8.8 percent of all borrowers in 2010, for the fiscal year ending September 30, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Education. 

President Barack Obama’s new “Pay As You Earn” proposal aims to provide some debt relief by allowing those with federal student loans to cap payments at ten percent of discretionary income and forgive debt balances after 20 years of payments.

Though the proposal may help, Kendrick finds the trends troubling. Adding to her worries is uncertainty whether the federal government may cut back funding for Pell grants, making it more difficult for low-income students.

The school is in the midst of a capital campaign aiming to raise $4 million for equipment and $2 million for the endowment “to offer more scholarships,” Kendrick says. “The fact is when we have to drop students and turn them away, their ability to regroup is impaired.” 

Over the last few years, Gateway has seen a surge of homeless students seeking assistance with food, rent, child care and other emergencies through the school’s Helping Hands Fund.

“They stay here all day, in the café, at the computers, in the library, and don’t have jobs,” Kendrick says. “The philosophy is that if you help them stay in school, their chances of completing are greater.

“I am concerned particularly with young people graduating with a lot of debt and not getting good-paying jobs, which puts them in a more compromising situation, trying to get on with life and having financial barriers hanging over their heads.”

Thompson has a different take on student debt.

“I think people have a one-sided view of it,” he says. “If you take a look at the investment [in a college education] in terms of the extra income you get, the statistic is the bachelor’s degree on average should get you a little more in excess of $1 million over a lifetime and the master’s about $3 million more.”

Kendrick firmly believes education is the passport to upper mobility. “But if you don’t have access to it, where does that put the American dream?” she asks. “We may have to change it or modify it, in a downward direction.

However, Kendrick also believes that “Our kids are resilient and things will pick up over time. I’m trying to create courses and programs for their needs,” she says, “and I’m trying to create hope and be optimistic. What’s on my radar is trying to get us moved into the new building [Gateway’s new downtown campus, where classes are slated to begin in autumn 2012], expanding school hours, from 6:30 a.m. to late in the evening and improving graduation rates.”

 

A recent report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling predicts college enrollment will rise from 20.4 million students currently enrolled to 23 million in 2019-20, and the increase will be primarily in non-traditional age students.

Kaplan is concerned the economy could put a damper on continued growth.

“I can’t imagine if it doesn’t pick up, there’s only so long people can sustain this uncertainty without a cutback in higher education,” he says. “There still are a lot of [households] struggling with the losses of one if not two incomes.”

Though he remains “very optimistic” about the future, “We have some huge challenges,” Kaplan acknowledges. “All universities are going to have to look at how their delivery systems are structured, using more online integrated with in-person delivery. They’re going to have to look at faculty rules and responsibilities and at how much time needs to be spent in the classroom.” More is needed, he thinks.

“Probably the greatest trend is how the technology impacts the curriculum, and we’ve got to keep pace,” Kaplan adds. “These students learn much differently [than previous generations]. They want [information] faster, technologically sophisticated and they want their experience to be collaborative. They’re no longer satisfied with a professor standing in front of a class who knows everything.”

 

 NEW HAVEN — Results of the 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) confirm that Connecticut continues to have the greatest achievement gap between low-income and higher-income students in the nation.

And it’s getting wider. Since 2009, the average achievement discrepancy between low- and higher-income students on fourth- and eighth-grade reading tests increased from 2.97 to 3.1 grade levels, while on math tests the disparity widened slightly to 3.2 grade levels. That means low-income students are three years on average behind their more affluent peers.

“Connecticut has taken only incremental steps toward the policy changes needed to begin closing the achievement gap, particularly when compared to neighboring states like Massachusetts and New York,” said Peyton R. Patterson, who chairs the New Haven-based Connecticut Council for Education Reform.

“We need to build the momentum to change our current direction and make fundamental education reform a reality for our students,” Patterson added.

 HAMDEN  — Four of the nation’s most prominent corporate executives are heading back to the college classroom.

Robert Castrignano, principal of Sandler O’Neill + Partners, LP; David M. Darst, managing director and chief investment strategist at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney; James W. McGlothlin, chairman & CEO of the United Co.; and William C. Weldon, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Johnson & Johnson, have agreed to team-teach a capstone course on leadership at the Quinnipiac University School of Business in the spring 2013 semester.

Donald Weinbach, Quinnipiac’s vice president for development and alumni affairs, said the four executives will be the first to teach in the university’s new Executive Professor Program, which will bring current and past corporate leaders to campus to teach classes in QU’s AACSB-accredited School of Business.

“It's critically important that business students understand and appreciate the leadership challenges that business executives face,” said Matthew O’Connor, dean of the School of Business. “I can think of no better way for students to learn about these issues than by a senior seminar on leadership that is co-taught by CEOs and directors of leading firms. This will be a wonderful experience for our students.”

Weinbach made the announcement at Quinnipiac’s ninth annual Business Leader Hall of Fame dinner held November 3 at the Metropolitan Club in New York City. At the event, Darst and McGlothlin were inducted into the Business Leader Hall of Fame, which recognizes outstanding leaders who serve as inspirational figures for young people entering the world of business. Weldon, a Quinnipiac alumnus and secretary of the university’s board of trustees, was inducted into the Business Leader Hall of Fame in 2004.