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News Clips 10/21/2013
University of West Florida works to build its ranks
Source: Pensacola News Journal, 10/19/13
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By Rhema Thomspson
Patrice Moorer loves big challenges.
“I would have never taken this job if I did not get a kick out of challenges,” the new director of retention said in her University of West Florida office.
So do her new UWF colleagues — Joffery Gaymon, Beverly King and Kim LeDuff. They’ve been assembled from various corners of the South. And this year is not likely to disappoint.
The university released its final enrollment and retention numbers for the fall this week, with total enrollment at 12,588, down from 12,652 last year. And first-year student enrollment is at 1,333, down from 1,797 in 2012. Retention rates for returning first-year students remain relatively stagnant at 70 percent.
Since taking office, UWF President Judy Bense has made increasing enrollment a signature of her tenure. Recently, that focus has shifted toward improving the university’s retention figures, ranking lowest among the state’s 11 universities, according to the latest data available.
Several initiatives have been launched to improve numbers, and among them was a recommendation from the university’s strategic planning committee to bring in a new team of hires for the job.
Plan of action
This year, that team is tasked with devising a plan of action for recruiting and retaining students. Bense has stated that her retention goal for 2014-15 is just short of 75 percent.
“That is the goal I’ve inherited, and I’ve certainly got some work cut out for us to get there,” Moorer said.
Moorer was hired in July as UWF’s new director of retention. Gaymon joined her in July, as the university’s new associate vice president of enrollment affairs, charged with overseeing development of a strategic plan for higher enrollment and retention rates during the next three years.
That three-year plan is in its beginning stages but is due for submission by the end of June 2014, Gaymon said.
“It will be based on data. It will be based on internal analysis of that institutional data and external market potential and things of that nature, so we’ll have very clear benchmarks for each year,” she said.
Part of that plan is a more comprehensive and focused approach to recruitment, Gaymon said.
“One of the things we need to do in the state of Florida was look at our primary, secondary and tertiary markets, and based on enrollment, determine who you are primarily enrolling as new students,” she said.
This year, the school has renewed its contract with Richmond, Va., recruiting firm Royall & Co. for another year for an estimated $357,000, but Gaymon said UWF plans to continue with a third-party vendor next year and will go through a bidding process to determine whom it will be.
The data that will set the foundation of the team’s strategic plan still are being collected and analyzed, but the source is the Office of Strategic Enrollment Planning and Institutional Research, under the direction of Beverly King. Her role is to supply data along with predictive models based on university trends in the past five to 10 years.
“I am the person who loves to ask questions and find the answers to those questions,” she said. “Who are the students who apply to UWF? Out of those students, who are accepted? Who are the ones who are enrolled? If students choose UWF, who are the students who are successful?”
There are questions, King said, and it will take nearly a year of collection, analysis and collaboration to answer them adequately.
“We’re very energetic, and I think there’s a strong synergy among us,” she said. “We each have our charges. Joffery is charged with overseeing this enrollment management strategic planning. Patrice is charged with retention initiatives. I’m charged with the data and predictive modeling.”
Playing a separate role in the effort toward UWF student success is another new hire, Chief Diversity Officer Kim LeDuff — a position she said the university created this fall to address an increasing population of minority students.
This fall, a total of 32 percent of students were ethnically diverse students, up from 26 percent last year.
“I think that led to the creation of my position because I think the university sees that, in the future, the population in general is going to be more diverse, and we sort of have to think about how to accommodate those students,” she said. “Patrice and Joffery, they’re handling recruitment, enrollment and retention, and a big part of that is diverse groups on our population.”
Students in those underrepresented populations are more likely to be from lower income households or the first in their family to graduate, LeDuff said.
“One of the big challenges for first generation (students) is that they don’t necessarily understand the culture of a college or university and they can’t go out and ask someone, and that’s one of the things we want to work on as well as making sure that we acclimate students to an academic environment and what it requires,” she said.
LeDuff said raising the profile of the university as an open and supportive community could lead to more students enrolling at UWF and staying there.
“For students from this region, I want their perception to be a positive one,” she said.