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After years of decline, enrollment and research are on the upswing

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JIM WORKMAN / The State Journal JIM WORKMAN / The State Journal
Fleming Hall, the school’s athletic complex, is one of the many projects under construction on the campus of West Virginia State University in Institute. Fleming Hall, the school’s athletic complex, is one of the many projects under construction on the campus of West Virginia State University in Institute.
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Increasing high school visits, being present at more college fairs and an increase in communications via personal notes, emails and telephone calls were some of the outreach methods used by West Virginia State University not only to engage and communicate with perspective students, but also to start building relationships. 

"We really tried to work and build relationships with students in a variety of ways that get them connected to the university and to help really highlight what's happening here at State," said Amanda Anderson, interim director of admissions.

For fall 2013, enrollment numbers increased nearly 50 percent over fall 2012 enrollment numbers. 

As of Aug. 30, first-time freshmen enrollment numbers stood at 432, compared to 291 first-time freshmen in fall 2012, signifying increasing enrollment after three consecutive years of decreasing enrollment.

Katherine McCarthy, vice-president for enrollment management and student affairs, said the final enrollment numbers still are being finalized.

"I believe we'll be in the 2,700 range or just over," McCarthy said. "Last fall, we were at 2,644."

Not only are enrollment numbers increasing, but also the ACT composite scores. The fall 2012 classes posted scores of 19.8, while the fall 2013 class posted a score of 20.0.

In a press release addressing increased enrollment, WVSU president Brian O. Hemphill addressed the students.

"As a public institution of higher education, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that each of these students is provided an opportunity to accomplish their dream of earning a college degree," Hemphill said. "I have personally pledged to each of these students that WVSU will work hard to assist them in securing their success." 

In order to attract as many prospective students as possible, Anderson said enhancing outreach to the local community and to surrounding states was a contributing factor. Typically, Putnam and Kanawha are the top counties WVSU attracts due to the close location. 

WVSU Senior Markie McCoy said she enjoys the close commute, as well as other things.

"I liked (WVSU's) location. I live about only 20 minutes away," McCoy said. "The tuition is pretty inexpensive but most of all, I really like coming here because I knew this was a really good school. And I wanted to go to a small school because the professors are more hands-on with their students. You're recognized as a name rather than a number." 

Junior baseball player Sean Williams came to WVSU to take advantage of the sports program. "There's a better baseball program here," Williams said. "It's a good school. It's very educational. The sports study program is good and I want to be a coach. I think it'll help me out."

This fall, 52 percent of first-time students come from Kanawha County, 17 percent from Putnam County, 3 percent from Boone County and 2 percent from Cabell County. In all, students come from 19 counties in West Virginia, as well as from 17 states, with Maryland and Ohio sending the most students.

For fall 2013, there are approximately 80 out-of state freshmen, compared to 31 last fall, which is important in creating the on-campus residential community, McCarthy said.

"We really enhanced our outreach to the local community but also to the surrounding states in addition to the state of West Virginia," Anderson said. "That was really impactful. We really wanted to share who we are and get people excited about the amazing things that are happening here on campus."

Partnering with the campus community was another big component.

"The faculty, staff and current students all really jumped in and met with prospective students," Anderson said. "They participated in some of our events that we hosted on campus as well. It was really a university community effort with some of the enhanced initiatives for our recruitment effort."

Utilizing visit programs, both group and individual, allowed prospective students to get on campus and interact with faculty and staff, Anderson said. it gives the student the chance to see the authenticity of the people and engage, which helps in making the final college decision.

As part of the group and individual visit initiative, a series of group visit days was launched, in addition to OpenSpot days and open houses.

TGIF, Transfers Get Information Fridays, also was made available, in which all the admitted students were invited to campus.

"We pushed an individual visit program where we invited students who couldn't attend a group day to come individually or with one or two other people, where they had an opportunity to still learn about the campus, tour campus and meet with faculty and staff from different areas to be able to get their questions answered and again get a feel for what State is like," Anderson said.

Along with relationship building comes process, McCarthy said.

"Once a student applies, the staff would work with that student to complete their application," McCarthy said. "That would give them an additional connection to the university."

A scholarship program also was created, as well as offering financial aid at a more strategic time.

"In the past, those often went out in late spring," McCarthy said. "This year, we started sending financial aid offers on March 1 to admitting students because that's a critical component for many families. We asked students to let us know about their intention to enroll by May 1. So, to be able to do that, the family has to have the financial aid award."

McCarthy said, approximately 75 percent of students depend on financial aid.

McCarthy says not only financial aid is important for students but that it also gives the admissions staff another chance and way to communicate with students and enhance the relationship building. 

Throughout the past year, offices for military student services have been opened, as well as an office for adult and commuter service in order to work with targeted populations. 

On Friday, Sept. 20, a groundbreaking ceremony will take place to mark the start of construction of the first new residence hall to be built on campus since 1969.

"The groundbreaking for the hall is also a significant piece for us because we have a residential community, McCarthy said. "This new hall is a way to enhance those opportunities as well as adding to some of the amenities we haven't had in the residence halls in a long time. 

McCarthy said it also helps in fostering a sense of community and enhancing the experience.

The new dorm, which is expected to open next fall, will house 291 students. 

Between the new hall and Dawson Hall, McCarthy said WVSU is looking to grow the current 275 residential students.

For commuters, WVSU offers an Adult and Commuter Student Service office. Several activities were made available for the first commuter week in order to provide fun activities and in order to acknowledge that target population.

Activities included a series of workshops, a car wash for commuting students to come through and movie night on the quad where students could bring their families.

Another targeted population is adult students.

"Adult students are also a very critical market for us," McCarthy said. "Some of those students have credits from long ago and now they want to complete their degree. Other adult students are just at a point in their life where they say, ‘Now it's my turn. I want to get my degree.' We want to develop and are developing the programs and services that appeal to those students, whether it's the time we offer classes, whether it is through our office of Adult and Commuter Services or the ways we can connect those students to each other."

"I think it's important, particularly for adult students, to know I'm not the only one trying to juggle family, work, school. They have limited time, sometimes limited resources, so we are trying to make their time here as effective and productive as possible is important." 

In the past year, the university website has been overhauled and re-launched, said Jack Bailey, director of public relations.

"We re-launched it in January so it looks totally different now," Bailey said. "It's a lot more visually appealing. We try to keep a lot more current imagery. We have a staff photographer, and he goes out and shoots fresh photos on a regular basis so overhauling the website helped a lot too because it communicated a fresher message than what was there before."

McCarthy said it now is easier to navigate and to find the information students and their parents would want to know more quickly.

Social media via Twitter and Facebook also has been expanded.

"We try to put a lot more information out that is more current," Bailey said. "We know that students use social media a lot so we've tried to step up our efforts in social media as another way to communicate."

The athletic facility, which is scheduled to open February 2014, is undergoing renovation.

"I think that'll be a real boost too," Bailey said. "When you can stop on campus and see new dorm going up and a new athletic facility, you can see the excitement. You can see things are happening."

As far as WVU's mission, McCarthy said it hasn't changed, but merely adapted by working with students in relation to their circumstances.

"Now, the focus turns toward seeing these students succeed by gaining their degrees, pursuing the careers they've always dreamed of and leaving a positive mark on our economy," said Paul Hill, Chancellor, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

WVSUfacts

 

  • Founded under the provisions of the Second Morrill Act of 1890.
  • Originally provided education to black citizens in agriculture and the mechanical arts under a segregated education system.
  • On March 17, 1891, the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill creating the West Virginia Colored Institute to be located in the Kanawha Valley and federal funds provided $3,000 for faculty salaries. 
  • The Legislature appropriated $10,000 to purchase land and construct a building. 
  • After the United States Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in 1954, enrollment quadrupled and, with the passage of Senate Bill 448 during the 2004 legislative session, the school became West Virginia State University. 
  • WVSU incorporates a diverse student body, with 61 percent White, 12.5 Black, 1 percent Asian, 1 percent Hispanic, 0.5 percent American Indian and 24 percent who chose not to identify. 
  • The official "Founders Day" of West Virginia State University is celebrated on March 17 each year.