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South Dakota college seeks to address declining enrollment

January 26, 2019

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — Changes are coming to Presentation College.

After a few years of declining enrollment and an evolving higher education landscape, the administration has decided now is the time to set the small Catholic college up for a successful future, the Aberdeen American News reported.

“Our enrollment is declining, and that decline made us take notice,” said President Margaret Huber. “We’re trying to be proactive. So that’s why we talked about pivoting, rather than enrollment, although enrollment is part of this story.”

Headcount enrollment — which measures students whether they take one credit or a full load — hit an all-time high in fall 2016 with 821, but then dropped by 60 students the following year. Enrollment for the fall 2018 semester was 700.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out why and to figure out what we can do to make the next several years — either turn that around or augment our enrollment with new programing and new ideas,” Huber said.

The first big step is shoring up the budget for the current school year. Presentation has already cut the use of adjunct faculty, not filled positions when people have left, adjusted the faculty and staff health care plan, and trimmed work study hours and positions, she said.

“For next year we are developing a budget that is probably just as lean,” Huber said.

But it’s not just cuts, said Chris Stocklin, vice president for finance. It’s also looking at ways the college could bring in more money.

“Being student-enrollment driven, being (that’s) the vast majority of financial resources, and we have to broaden the base,” he said. “We can’t be so dependent upon enrollment.”

That could mean fundraising or creating partnerships with other institutions and entities, Stocklin said.

“I always say there’s money in this country. There’s no shortage of money in America, it’s just a matter of we’ve got to figure out, among the administration, how we’re going to tap into those financial resources,” he said. “It’s just not going to be regional, here in South Dakota, we’re going to have to seek out financial resources across the country.”

Even with all the changes at the administrative level, the hope is that students notice little to nothing, Huber said.

“As we work our way through the plan, the students, the only thing they might experience is our talking to them more, asking them their opinions about the future or how they experience the present on the campus,” she said. “The impact of everything we’re doing is to maintain a quality experience for the student throughout.”

So far this semester, the biggest change sophomore roommates Megan Roehl and Hannah Hoffert have witnessed is a more upbeat attitude throughout campus. The pair were recently working the desk in the Welcome Center.

“I think with the new semester, everyone’s moods kind of change and there’s a different dynamic when you first start a semester, versus when you end one,” Roehl said.

A nursing student from Ellendale, North Dakota, she said most students only tend to notice changes when they have new instructors, or when there’s a physical change, like the creation of the Welcome Center at the entrance of the Main Building.

“We are not just a number campus, we’re family,” said Hoffert, a human services and psychology major from Rugby, North Dakota. “We know every name that comes by, we know people. You get to know everyone as a person, you don’t just know them as a face. You know them as a name, you probably know their parents’ names, you probably know where they come from.”

They work with Marcus Garstecki, the new vice president of enrollment and marketing, through their involvement in the Student Ambassadors Club.

“If I wasn’t a student ambassador, I probably wouldn’t know that new people have come in,” Roehl said.

Being student ambassadors means they get a chance to meet potential students and sell them on Presentation.

Between now and the beginning of the next fiscal year — which starts July 1 — administration, faculty and staff are working to come up with changes, Huber said.

“When you pivot, when you reinvent, you have to decide what to keep, and you have to decide what to add,” Huber said. “Deciding what to keep — I said that rather than deciding what to get rid of, because people don’t like to do that. But we ought to decide what is the core of our business.”

The school is working to attract those who have traditionally been nontraditional students — those working full time or going back to school after many years, said Diane Duin, vice president of academics.

“One of the things that I’m focusing on is how do we grow ... Presentation Virtual — our online (courses) — and reach out to students that we maybe haven’t traditionally thought about,” she said.

Presentation has already seen success with its online, licensed practical nursing to bachelor of science in nursing program, which is geared toward working nurses who do not have a four-year degree, Duin said.

The first students of Presentation’s new online- based master of science in nursing will graduate in spring 2020.

The school is also looking for other areas it could grow into. Addiction counseling has come up, Duin said.

“We have a human services program that fits beautifully. Shouldn’t we, in rural South Dakota, be addressing a need such as that?” she said.

And because Presentation is so small and not part of a bigger system, it has some flexibility.

“In public, there’s far more layers,” Duin said. “We can make those moves a little quicker, we can pivot a little faster.”

During the past two decades, Presentation has grown its athletic programs to include football, soccer, softball and, most recently, cross-country.

The majority of Presentation students are student-athletes. About 80 percent of each freshman class on campus in Aberdeen is on a team, Huber said.

None of those programs are on the chopping block, but their rosters might shrink in the coming years, she said.

“We want to right-size that roster size so students have the opportunity to play,” she said. “We’re planning on paying real close attention to how our teams are built in the future.”

Presentation’s struggles aren’t unique. Across the country the halls of higher learning are seeing a decline in traditional students — those who go to college right after high school, live on campus and graduate in four years.

The college is working with a consulting firm to develop its plan, Huber said.

The idea-gathering phase will end in February, then it’s on to making solid, detailed plans to present to the board of trustees in April.

“We’re not good at everything and we don’t want to do everything. We want to be pretty selective about what Presentation will be in the future,” Huber said.

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Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com

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