South Carolina State University is using several approaches to increase enrollment, according to interim President Alex Conyers.
Conyers laid out the basic tenets of his “admissions growth strategic plan” during an Oct. 6 meeting of the S.C. State Board of Trustees.
“I know that growing enrollment will help us resolve many of our challenges. ... If we can grow our overall enrollment by 1,000 students, that's $10 million in our budget. That's the money we can then use to invest in academics, increase pay raises, all of those things,” Conyers said.
“When I walk around and talk to the faculty and staff, that's what they ask me about. We all know that it costs money, and we all know that the state appropriations will probably remain somewhat stagnant. We're certainly doing much better with our state appropriations than we have in the past few years, but it will never be enough to get us to where we really want to be with certain things,” he said.
A top-down review of the university's entire recruitment, marketing and admissions process is part of the plan.
“We've got to go out and we've got to increase our enrollment, and we've got to do that by potentially outsourcing some of the process, as many universities do, with mailings and several different things,” Conyers said.
He said there’s also a direct linkage between athletics and enrollment that needs to be looked at.
“We should not be shy about looking at athletics and how it links to enrollment, and that's what this admission growth plan will take a look at, as well as band,” the president said.
Increasing on-campus bed space is also among the plan's targets.
“I know I can't just grow the university numbers without looking at bed space,” Conyers said.
Enhancing the total student experience at the university also has to be addressed in “everything from extracurricular to clubs, intramural sports and parent engagement,” Conyers said.
He is hoping the creation of an SCSU Parents and Families Association will help.
“We know that parents allow students to make the decision to come to college, but parents make the decision to withdraw them and go someplace else because of the experiences. ... We will have a website, we will have informational sessions and we will get parents the information that their son or daughter may not get to them,” Conyers said.
Addressing the university's finances is a long-standing issue he has also included in his strategic plan.
“We know that's important. We know that that affects faculty and staff that may want to come to us. If we've got positions posted, they see that we're still under financial exigency, it may deter some great faculty member or staff members from coming to South Carolina State.
“We know we've been on this path now for some time, and at some point and time, this will address that, and I will back to the board, asking you to look at it,” Conyers said.
He said the creation of a First Generation Society will also help increase enrollment and build upon the university's 125-year legacy of educating first-generation college students.
“Other universities are now doing it very intentionally. As we compete for the same students, they're very intentional about the resources that they provide them. ... So I want to get very intentional about the support to our first-generation college students,” Conyers said.
The university is also in dire need of an academic program review, he said.
“We've got to look at the programs that best work for the university, the ones that we have students in that's paying as they go, and we've got to let the data drive decisions. We cannot let who's in the positions, who's in those departments drive those decisions. We've got to layer data out, and then I'll come back to you for decisions, data-driven, based on our academic program review, as well as tuition review,” Conyers said.
He said the average African-American student graduates with $52,000 worth of debt, compared to $25,000 for the average white student.
“But for us in South Carolina, we're one of the highest tuition-paying state-supported public schools. If you’ve got a student from one of our poorest counties here and he's eligible for the Pell Grant, the Pell Grant is $6,500. Our tuition is already at $10,000,” Conyers said.
“We know that the federal government is looking at increasing that (Pell Grant) amount to $8,000. That will help a lot, and then there may be some other options that we may have as well. I plan to bring that to you in this academic growth strategic plan that will have us look at tuition review,” he said.
Conyers reported on his interactions with the Class of 2025.
“They're excited to be a part of the largest freshman class we've had since 2016. When I speak to them, I remind them of all of the great things that graduates of South Carolina State have done across this country, across this world, and remind them that they can get there from here,” Conyers said.
The university's current enrollment is 2,379.
“Our campus for the first time in 18 months is bustling with students, which is a good thing. So we're excited about that. As we make these transitions, I constantly remind the faculty and the staff to remain fluid because flexible is just too rigid,” Conyers said.
He also mentioned the death of student Dejun Crosby in early September and that he and his wife, Agatha, had visited Crosby's family in Anderson.
He also reported on the plans to redevelop the City of Orangeburg's Railroad Corner.
“It's been talked about for years, and the city is finally making some progress towards totally redeveloping that area," Conyers said. He said students will have the chance to provide input into the project.
The president has also met with officials from the state Department of Transportation regarding the details of its U.S. 21/178 Bypass Corridor Enhancement Project, which is slated to include decorative stamped crosswalks, mast-arm intersection signs and landscaped medians.
“They will install walking paths and lighting and help us take down trees and expand our footprint. So that's going to be great work,” Conyers said.
He also reported that USDA officials will meet with university officials later this month about different funding opportunities.
Conyers said there are, “many opportunities, especially in the health and wellness area. We certainly need to look at our health and wellness for our students, for gym equipment other than our athletes. We just don't have anything for the average student to partake with gym and gym equipment.”
The president said Duke Energy Foundation officials will be on the campus in November with a donation to the university. Derek McGowan, director of Google’s Pathways and Partnership team, is scheduled to visit the university within the next month.
Conyers said the university continues to push for more funding to support the construction of a limnology center at Camp Harry Daniels in Elloree. Limnology is the study of lakes and other bodies of fresh water.
The president said he met with state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. D-Orangeburg, and the chief executive officer of Santee Cooper regarding the university’s “fight for more 1890 funding down at Camp Daniels.”
He was also a guest speaker at a recent Orangeburg Rotary Club meeting and pledged to have more S.C. State students engaged in volunteer work through the club.
“As we celebrate 125 years this year, Rotary of Orangeburg is celebrating 100 years. I told them we're in this together. So, looking forward to reestablishing a really strong relationship with the Rotary Club,” he said.
He highlighted several student achievements, including the S.C. State business team placing first in the National Black MBA Association Undergraduate Case Competition against 12 other universities from across the nation.
“That tells me our students can compete with the best of them. … We've got to have the funding to get them to these competitions. … So that's part of the reason I'm continuing to fight hard every day for unrestricted funds so that we can get our students to participate in these types of events,” he said.
Conyers said he was grateful the university's inaugural “40 Under 40” class presenting a $30,000 check to the SCSU Foundation. He encouraged more collective giving.
“If we had 30 different affinity groups giving collectively, that's $900,000, whether it's band, sorority, different majors, whatever you might think. I want to thank those members of the ‘40 Under 40’ and encourage others to give, encourage others to consolidate their giving power,” he said.
The university launched a $1.25 million campaign in August. The campaign has since reached $301,981 with 545 donors.
“We're now getting intentional about calling and asking certain people that we think have the capacity to give. So great job by the team on this. … Most of that is cash. We hadn’t had many pledges,” Conyers said.
The bulk of the money will go toward general scholarships.
“I'm scheduled on Oct. 20 to present our budget to the Governor's Office,” Conyers said.
He's also in the midst of hiring for positions at the university, including chief finance officer, vice president of enrollment management and general counsel.
“We've been without a CFO for almost two months now. (University controller) Ms. Brenda Walker has been filling in, has been doing a great job,” Conyers said.
He said the university is also working to make sure it gets its share of the state General Assembly’s $2 billion in surplus money.
“Certainly, South Carolina State will present and make our request to get our fair share of that. We don't know when they will take this up, but prior to that, myself and other key members, including the chairman, will engage. We're setting up one-on-one engagements with several of those committee members,” Conyers said.
The board approved current standing committees which include the following: Executive Committee; Academic Affairs Committee; Finance and Administration/Operations Committee; Public Relations/Institutional Advancement and Alumni Relations Committee; Student Affairs and Athletic Committee and the new Sponsored Research and Information Technology and Public Service and Agriculture committees.
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