Release Date: 5/3/1999
CLARKSVILLE, Ark. --- Calling it a defining year in the history of the institution, University of the Ozarks President Dr. Rick Niece told the university's Board of Trustees on Saturday that developments over the past year will help propel efforts to increase enrollment almost 40 percent within the next 10 years at the private, liberal arts college.
Ozarks had an enrollment of 530 students last fall. Buoyed by the largest single gift in the history of private education in Arkansas --- a $39.5 million gift by the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation announced in November --- the university has set goals of increasing to 625 students by 2004 and 700 students by 2009.
"This has been a remarkable year," Dr. Niece told the board at its annual Spring meeting. "The gift has allowed us to address the challenges and many needs that you as a Board of Trustees have discussed for a number of years. We will be able to improve the quality of life for all our campus employees and the quality of academics, student services and residence life for all of our students. Now we are in position to address our next major challenge: enrollment. We have some things in place that will allow us to aggressively address increasing our enrollment."
Dr. Niece said the university infrastructure is being put in place to accommodate more students. He pointed out that a $26 million capital campaign in the early 1990s allowed the university to add and upgrade several facilities on campus. The university has already raised almost $41 million of a current $55 million campaign, which was launched by the Walton gift. The current Pride and Promise campaign has already doubled the university's endowment to 70 million and will also help address academic programs and faculty and student issues. The campaign will allow the university to offer more courses, hire additional faculty, increase faculty and staff salaries to regional averages, and improve residence halls and student services.
"If we would have admitted an additional 150 students this past year, we would not have been ready for them," Dr. Niece said. "We need to get our campus infrastructure in place before we increase enrollment too much and too quickly. Other universities have increased their enrollment before they were ready, and it will be interesting to see what their retention rates are in the coming years. We will be prepared to offer the additional students the same personal attention and academic excellence we have in the past, and we can do that by having our programs, faculty and facilities ready for the increase."
Dr. Niece told the board that a portion of the Walton gift will go directly to a new enrollment marketing effort, which includes the addition of a new position: vice president for enrollment marketing. Also, a prospect management system will be put into place that will implement a multi-step follow-up approach and emphasize the recruiting of high school sophomores and juniors as well as out-of-state and international students.
"Our admissions staff has worked hard and conscientiously during the past several years, but their efforts were hindered by three major factors: They were understaffed, underfunded, and there was no enrollment management system in place," Dr. Niece said. "We're bringing in an experienced and effective administrator as vice president for enrollment marketing, and he is a professional who has had a great deal of success with prospect management."
As part of the enrollment management efforts, the university will also focus on retention. Dr. Niece pointed out that while Ozarks' retention rate of around 70 percent was equal to the national average for private schools, he would like to see it consistently in the 80 percent range.
Our retention numbers are adequate, but we can do better," he said. "A freshman mentors program, additional faculty, renovated residence halls, new apartment-style living quarters, and increased student life programming are some of the major steps we're taking toward improving our retention numbers. I have made student retention a campus-wide priority among all of our employees."
Also at Saturday's meeting, the Board of Trustees approved a master facilities plan that includes a strategy for campus expansion. Among the priorities for the campus are new apartment-style living facilities and a recreational/wellness center.