Looking back at last year, it’s easy to see that it was among the most successful
school years in Incarnate Word history.
We started the 2004-2005 school year by setting an enrollment record that allowed us to remain the largest Catholic university in Texas as well as become the fifth-largest private university in the state.
That success was attributable to a number of factors. For example, we experienced greater-than-expected interest from prospective students for the pre-pharmacy program at the start of the fall 2004 semester.
We also continued building on work that’s giving us a clearer understanding of the specific needs of the students. Some of the results became evident last year in the fact that for the second consecutive year, we avoided what had become a customary dip in enrollment between the fall and spring semesters.
With increased attention to the needs of our students, the Office of Financial Assistance has been responsive as well.
They have been very timely in notifying new and transferring students of their financial aid awards in order to help them make critical decisions about where they will attend school. At the same time, they have helped our returning students to register early, even when they haven’t yet completed payment of their spring tuition.
Just as important, there was a coordinated plan to continually communicate and work with students to ensure they got through the registration process successfully. This involved a campus-wide effort between the academic deans and the Offices of Financial Assistance, Admissions, the Registrar, Advising and Business.
All of this teamwork allowed us to showcase the benefits of an Incarnate Word education to potential students, their parents and the public at-large.
It’s worth remembering that many of today’s students have multiple options on where to attend college. And it’s just as clear from our rising enrollment that a growing number of students are choosing to pursue their academic dreams at UIW.
For all of our success in 2004-2005, the new school year already looks like it will surpass what our community accomplished last year.
First, let me start by reporting that we had a very positive visit in the spring by the re-accreditation team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Their visit resulted in three minor suggestions that will have been addressed well before the re-accreditation vote is taken by SACS in December, which we are confident will be in our favor.
While re-accreditation has involved the time and energy of the entire community for the past three years, let me single out the following individuals for providing strong, steady leadership in guiding us through the complexities of this process: Dr. Terry Dicianna, Provost; Dr. Denise Doyle, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs; and Dr. Bob Connelly, our new Assistant Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs.
Next, you may recall that last year we came within a handful of students of meeting what’s been a long-time institutional goal of increasing the new, full-time freshmen enrollment to 500 students.
This year, I’m extremely pleased to report that we have met that goal and exceeded by a wide margin; the year began with 578 new, full-time freshmen.
And for the first time in school history, we surpassed the 5,000-mark in overall student enrollment. Including undergraduate, graduate, ADCaP and online, we now have 5,217 students. This marks the 19th time in the last 20 years that our institution has set an enrollment record.
Whether you’ve been with Incarnate Word for many years, or are a new member of the community, pause a moment to consider the following: The current number of full-time freshmen and transfer students alone is now greater than the entire full-time enrollment of Incarnate Word in 1985.
Growth, or rather lack of it, is something that a number of other private universities continue to struggle with. Yet, our enrollment has increased by more than 40 percent since 2000, and by more than 300 percent in the last 20 years.
Before continuing, let me share some good news with you related to the enrollment growth. Next week, I will submit a recommendation to the Board of Trustees for its consideration at the Board meeting on Oct. 6 that all eligible employees be awarded a 2 percent cost-of-living raise, effective Nov. 1. This raise will be in addition to the merit and equity raises that were awarded on June 1.
As a tuition-dependent institution, the growth in enrollment is important because it provides us with the flexibility to do a number of things. One of the most important is limiting increases in tuition.
Studies have shown that our tuition increases during the past few years have been below the average for similar private universities in the state. That’s one of the reasons we continue to be in the position of being able to offer a quality education at an affordable price, which allows us to meet our mission of offering educational access to populations historically underserved by higher education.
What recent history has also taught us is that we mustn’t be complacent by resting on past laurels, and that it’s prudent to always be planning ahead.
That brings us to one of the themes for 2005-2006: communications. As our universe continues to expand, it’s vital that we preserve strong lines of communication in order to maintain harmony and achieve our institutional goals.
With all the changes that have occurred at UIW since the restructuring of the University Planning Commission several years ago, the consensus is that the UPC has done a very good job of keeping the internal community informed of what’s happening on the campus.
That’s not just happenstance. The faculty and administration have worked hard at consciously developing an institutional culture that encourages communication by both groups through vehicles such as the UPC and the Faculty Senate.
Hand-in-hand with communications is engagement. If you recall, two years ago I wrote that Webster’s Dictionary provides several definitions for “engagement,” among them “pledge” and a “promise to be present at a specified time and place.”
We have to continue to find ways to engage students in the learning process in order to improve our retention rate and persistence to graduation, something that I’m confident we can do through the implementation of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).
We have previously discussed that engagement has to consist of quality learning experiences that assure successful academic progress for the student. Otherwise, the student could end up transferring out of UIW, or worse yet, drop out of college.
Both alternatives run counter to our dual roles as members of the Incarnate Word community and as college educators.
And also looming around the corner is finding a permanent resolution to the athletic conference situation.