Enrollment and deficit issues have been a running theme on campus in the past year, and have been a heavy focus of university administrators.
It started last fall when Bradley had a 243-student shortfall in enrollment in the fall semester of 2018. Consequentially, the university had an almost $8 million operating budget deficit, according to university president Gary Roberts in August.
The shortfall was a complex combination of student retention, freshmen recruitment and the enrollment of graduate programs. The declining number of international students across the nation also contributed to the shrinking on-campus graduate programs’ enrollment.
Since then, the university has taken some steps in an effort to prevent the continuation of the issue.
The university implemented academic programs like the STEM scholars and the ESL (English as a second language) program. In graduate school, it continues to expand the number of online programs and increased international recruitment efforts. Other initiatives, like the 1897 Challenge, for first-year students to get-to-know campus.
Looking at the statistical profile this year, the first-year retention rate has improved from last year, yet has not recovered to Bradley’s historical average of around 86 percent. Overall, total enrollment has improved compare to last year.
It’s good to have improvements, but it is nowhere near the level to solve Bradley’s long-term financial concerns.
This week, the university hosted two forums this week to brainstorm solutions to decrease the outstanding deficit. However, student participation in these forums has been sparse.
Though no information from the forum is allowed to be released to the public, it’s fair to make the observation that the lack of a student presence during these events was obvious.
These issues can be overwhelming for students, but the university’s financial health can have significant and immediate impact to campus life. The university budget directly determines what programs and classes are offered, what and when services are available on campus and the cost of attending.
The university should try to encourage students to attend the forums, and openly invite and involve students in these discussions. It is important to listen to the student perspective in the process of improvement.