Education

St. Aug's streamlines efforts to raise revenue, enrollment

Posted August 11, 2014 6:07 p.m. EDT
Updated August 11, 2014 6:17 p.m. EDT

Saint Augustine's University, St. Augustine's University

— Saint Augustine’s University has a three-pronged plan to boost enrollment and revenue, Interim President Everett Ward said Monday in a speech marking his 100th day in office.

The university’s focus is on streamlining its academic focus, implementing cost-saving measures and revving up fundraising and community partnership efforts.

“I am pleased to report that improvements have been made in each of these critical areas,” Ward said. “However, we still have miles to go before we sleep.”

The report comes as the university recovers from an enrollment drop resulting in a $3 million loss in net tuition revenue and the removal of its previous president, who was fired in April. School leaders are also awaiting the results of a federal investigation into allegations that the university provided false information on a federal grant proposal.

Whether the university’s efforts, including a summer open house that granted automatic admission to high school students, result in more incoming students is yet to be seen. Administrators set a goal of 250 incoming freshmen, and as of May, the school had 198 commitments. Classes start on Wednesday.

“We must look at our admission strategy and also our retention strategy, and those are two priorities we are working on now,” said Ward, who added that additional budget cuts may be needed if enrollment projections are not met.

The institution has initiated a number of reductions to its $26 million budget:

  • 43 positions were eliminated – 12 were vacant and 31 employees were laid off during the summer.
  • Two week-long furloughs were instituted – one in July and the second scheduled for December. The furloughs are expected to save the school over $1 million.
  • No adjunct professors will be hired for the 2014-15 school year, a move expected to save an additional $1 million.
  • Some campus facilities were closed over the summer to conserve energy and reduce utility costs.
  • Some staffers were shifted from a 12-month to a 10-month schedule.

To further increase revenue, the university will hold an annual fall fundraiser in addition to its spring Sapphire Gala.

“What we realized is that no institution can survive with just one fundraiser a year, plus alumni giving,” Ward said.

Saint Augustine’s, while continuing to maintain other majors, will streamline its academic focus into four areas:

  • Mass communications and journalism
  • STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math)
  • Criminal justice
  • Public health

The university recently received two grants from the National Science Foundation totaling $800,000 to help students studying STEM subjects with tuition and research opportunities.

In an effort to increase its research programs, the university created a new position – vice-president of research and innovative programming. Yvonne Coston, a math professor at the school, has been promoted into the position.

“No university can be everything to everybody, but at the same time we’ve got to take our resources and put those resources in areas where we know that the demand is there and also where we will work to our strengths,” Ward said.

Ward said the school has focused on building relationships with various groups:

  • School leadership spoke to alumni during the alumni association’s national conference in the Bahamas. Ward noted, “This was not an expense occurred by the university.”
  • Ward will meet with clergy from the Episcopal Church on Sept. 4 to discuss the university’s mission and vision. The school is affiliated with the church, and to further strengthen the relationship, the campus chaplain will now report to the university president.
  • Ward has also met with various community and corporate leaders, including Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Todd Warrick, senior vice-president of Capital Bank.

“I think we have a lot of work yet to do. We’re going to work hard to do that,” Ward said. “But I am pleased that at the end of the 100 days, St. Augustine’s is in a much better position.”