Enrollment, funding are challenges facing Emporia State

August 15, 2011

Declining enrollment and increased burden on students and families to pay for education are two challenges facing Emporia State University, the school’s interim president said today.
Interim President H. Edward Flentje
H. Edward Flentje, who became interim president July 1, spoke during the Fall 2011 General Assembly, which kicked off the new school year at ESU.

The financial burden on students and families is a result of decisions at the state level about funding higher education. State universities’ share of tax dollars has slipped from 12.7 percent in 2002 to 9.5 percent in the current fiscal year, a loss of $10 million at ESU alone, Flentje said.

“We may not like it,” he said about the funding shift, “but it’s something we have to adjust to.”

University-wide, enrollment hit an all-time high with the 2007 academic year. But from 2007-10, enrollment dropped 2 percent or approximately 65 full-time undergraduate students and 50 full-time graduate students, Flentje said. And on-campus enrollment has been harder hit, dropping 13 percent during the seven-year period since its all-time high in 2003.

The on-campus drop, however, has been offset by a 316 percent increase in off-campus enrollment during the years between 2000 and 2010, much of that coming in graduate programs.

“Students are expressing their preferences in how we deliver instruction, and they are reporting a high level of satisfaction in distance education,” Flentje said.

As an interim president, Flentje said, he is in a position where he can speak more frankly about issues.

“I spoke more forthrightly about the enrollment issue than a permanent person might want to do,” he said, as an example.

Still, he said, enrollment can increase.

“The quality of what we do is really strong,” he said. “We do things very well and have superb academic offerings.”

In addition, students at ESU have opportunities for leadership and involvement that they wouldn’t have at larger institutions. And he cited the $25 million renovation project at the Memorial Union — which students supported by agreeing to increased student fees to pay for it.

“I think we’ve got to tell our story effectively,” Flentje said, “how we present ourselves, how we brand ourselves, so to speak.”

Classes at ESU begin Wednesday.

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