Adams State University strategy leads to growth

(02-05-2014)

Opinion by Dr. David Svaldi, President, Adams State University

To steal a quote from Mark Twain - the rumors of Adams State University's demise are greatly exaggerated.

In many ways, Adams State is doing better than ever. In spite of the recent recession and resulting state funding cuts, we have achieved record enrollments and an unprecedented transformation of our campus. This past fall we admitted our second largest freshman class ever and broke another record for graduate student enrollment. Next fall we begin our first Ph.D. program.

I am not surprised by this success. It was the result of a careful strategy that addressed Adams State's most pressing needs: enrollment and campus improvement.

Over the last decade, state funding for facility maintenance and capital construction virtually vanished, on top of a 30 percent drop in state general fund support since 2008. Our campus was ugly, run down and unattractive - not exactly an asset in student recruitment. So we decided to invest in our campus ourselves, because the state was unable to do so. In 2008, our students approved a capital construction fee that has financed $65 million in campus renovation and construction. The first goal was to expand and improve student housing, followed by extensive renovations in academic buildings.

Simply increasing tuition to offset state cuts was unacceptable, because the majority of Adams State's students are low income and/or minority. We are committed to remaining affordable for the people of rural Southern Colorado. We minimized tuition increases by drawing upon budget reserves and increasing enrollment of out-of-state students and graduate students, who pay higher tuition. This plan was approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) two years ago.

Our plan is working. Over the last six years, we've increased enrollment of Colorado resident undergraduates by 14 percent - 2 percent better than the statewide average. During that same time span, our graduate enrollment grew a whopping 98 percent, compared to a statewide average of 8 percent. Enrollment of out-of-state undergraduates grew by 23 percent, 5 percent above the statewide average. We also awarded 42 percent more degrees during the same period.

Over the last five years, this enrollment success produced $4.7 million in new revenue from graduate programs and $2 million more in undergraduate non-resident revenue. Of that, $1.5 million was earmarked to support on-campus undergraduate education in FY2012-13. In addition to mitigating tuition increases, these funds also support the SLV Promise Award, which covers full tuition and fees for qualified, low-income students from the San Luis Valley region.

Adams State University is poised for more growth. We are recruiting more out-of-state students and seeking more international students. As the new university partner for the Colorado Boettcher Teacher Residency program, we foresee more growth in graduate students. This partnership will also enhance K-12 education in San Luis Valley schools.

None of this means financial challenges are lessening, however. Federal financial aid may be reduced again. Adams State's dedicated faculty and staff have had one cost-of-living salary increase in the last five years. The Governor's plan to restore higher education funding - which we applaud - will still fall short of 2008 levels. Adams State always has been, and will continue to be, reliant on consistent state support.

Adams State has withstood much adversity in our nearly 90 years of providing quality higher education to the people of Southern Colorado. But are we going out of business? Check back in 2105.