September 26, 2023
Dear Hornet Nation,
I hope this message finds you well and in good spirits. The fall semester is off to a great start with students back and signs of progress all over campus including construction on our new Nursing + Student Wellness Center, Cybersecurity Research + Outreach Center, Esports Arena and Feltner Student Union Square.
Emporia State serves students who are looking for, or need, a personal, small school experience committed to their individual success. We predominantly serve Kansas students. Eighty-eight percent of our students are from Kansas, and upon graduation 87% go on to work and live their lives in Kansas, including the Kansas City metro area. We are helping build the Kansas economy and workforce and will continue to do so. ESU is vital to the students we serve, our community and region.
This week, the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) will release enrollment numbers for the system. As we forecasted 18 months ago, enrollment this fall will be down. Considering this news, as our valued community, supporters and friends, I wanted to connect with you to reinforce that we remain optimistic and excited about our path forward.
Because what students need from higher education has changed, we’re building something different at ESU. Over the past year, we have worked together on campus to identify how ESU could better serve our students and also benefit the state of Kansas. Then we made investments in upgrading our academic programs. We made substantial changes to our academic structure, suspended certain programs and introduced new ones to better serve the needs of our students and our region. We are in the middle of a full-scale transformation, and change of this magnitude takes time.
Through everything, our core mission remains singular: Students. Students. Students.
As a reminder, for the past 18 months, we have been upfront and have communicated, to Hornet Nation, KBOR, legislators and others listening that:
- Enrollment trends are changing and declining across the nation.
- During our transformation, Emporia State will have declining enrollment before stabilizing in 2025.
- The national workforce shortage is a new competitor in the higher education landscape, pulling students directly into the workforce after high school graduation.
- Higher education must adapt to the rapidly and ever-changing market.
Enrollment, while important, is just part of the story. The rest of the story is what it costs to operate the university. Enrollment numbers hold little significance unless they are compared to expenses. This means enrollment isn’t necessarily equal to success. The size of an institution is not equal to the health and financial efficiency of the institution.
Change takes time. After all, we are correcting inaction from the last two decades. We are exactly where we expected to be at this point of a multi-year transformation process, and we remain committed to, and focused on, implementing the changes our campus has set in motion.
Emporia State is doggedly committed to continuously making substantive changes that address the total health of the institution — our enrollment, retention, academic + non-academic programming and operational costs. These are challenges that have been steadily worsening since 2005, which is why we are focused on rightsizing our institution and on making changes that:
- Manage expenses responsibly.
- Add new, and/or, modernize our portfolio of academic programs.
- Expand our reach and offerings to entice prospective students.
- Reduce the physical campus footprint and tackle associated deferred maintenance costs.
As an industry, higher education is at a crossroads and can no longer afford to ignore the signs of the times: the popularity of online education, lucrative alternatives to higher education, corporations offering on-the-job training and national campaigns urging students and employers to forego higher education — paired with a shortage of workers and the increasing cost for students to attend. We believe a four-year degree remains the best choice for students who want to build successful careers. However, we must be innovative and adapt to an ever-changing environment, while keeping today’s modern students’ wants and needs at the forefront.
You can be confident that Emporia State is in a good position as we are on the leading edge of this industry change.
We are tremendously grateful for the encouragement and ongoing support from Hornet Nation — our students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, friends, community and legislators. It is not an easy road, but the destination will be worth it.
Black & Gold Forever.
President, Emporia State University
Class of ’82