UVI president decries steadily declining student enrollment, retention
Published: August 10, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - University of the Virgin Islands President David Hall framed his budget testimony before the Senate's Finance Committee on Friday as a "call to action to higher education," stressing the links between a college degree and economic prosperity.
Responding to the call would come at an added cost of $2.35 million to the university's proposed government appropriation, but it would be a worthwhile investment, Hall said, in terms of retaining and educating the territory's youth and future workforce.
The university faces significant declines in enrollment and problems with the recruitment and retention of faculty, according to Hall.
Also, Hall stressed the links between low participation in higher education among Virgin Islanders and economic outcomes, using national statistics to support his budget request.
The governor had proposed to drop UVI's FY 2013-2014 appropriation by $1.4 million from the previous year, but after Hall successfully convinced the administration that such a reduction would "have a devastating impact" on the academic programs at the university, the governor proposed to keep the budget intact, with a recommended appropriation of about $28.9 million, Hall testified.
On Friday, Hall made the case to the 30th Legislature for an additional $2.35 million, which would bring the school's FY 2013-2014 appropriation to $33.1 million. This amount still is less than the $34.5 million appropriation given to UVI in 2009, when Hall became president, he pointed out in his testimony.
According to Hall, the additional funding would support: a $600,000 increase in a debt service line to build a new multi-purpose facility for the St. Croix campus; a $700,000 fund for a merit-based salary increase for faculty; a $900,000 increase in money for scholarships for adult learners; and $150,000 to hire a full-time recruiter for the island of St. Croix.
Hall said that the "college completion percentage for residents of the Virgin Islands lags behind all states and some territories," with only 19.2 percent of Virgin Islanders having attained a bachelor's degree, while the national average sits at 39.3 percent. This affects the earnings potential of the territory's residents and could hamper the ability of the territory to attract businesses that would demand an educated workforce, Hall said. He added that low academic achievement is strongly correlated with high unemployment rates.
"If the Economic Development Commission and the Research and Technology Park are to be successful in attracting companies to the Virgin Islands, we must ensure that we have a trained work force to address their needs," Hall said.
Trends in enrollment, particularly for the St. Croix campus, do not bode well for reversing these trends which already are affecting the community, Hall said.
"Our applications dropped from a high of 2,156 in 20010, to a low of 1,722 in 2012. Though we were able to elevate it this year to 1,839, this increase has not translated into enrollments. Our enrollment has dropped from a high of 2,733 in 2010 to a low of 2,455 in 2012. Though our enrollment for 2013 is not yet complete, we are anticipating another decline," Hall said.
He cited the underpreparation of Virgin Islands high school graduates, competition from mainland schools and difficult economic times as factors contributing to the decline.
After the hearing, Hall said the university suffers from a certain rate of attrition because underperforming students could not meet expected GPAs to maintain financial aid. Hall said he could not quantify the percentage of students lost the last two years to this trend, but it is a cause for concern.
In addition, according to Hall's testimony, population trends depict that the pool of typical college-aged Virgin Islanders will shrink in the next two decades.
Addressing declining enrollment would require better outreach among high school students, which the full-time recruiter position is designed to implement, but it also would require that the school examine ways to attract adults who have foregone a college education. Hall suggested that creating a special fund for scholarships targeted to older adults be put in place.
"We need a policy statement which would let them know that higher education is still within their grasp and reach. For if they were to pursue this opportunity, which many may have deferred, then the Virgin Islands would prosper in the long run," Hall said. "Education is one of the most effective tools for offsetting poverty. It is also the best stimulus for economic prosperity."
Interim provost Camille McKayle addressed the loss of faculty members because of low salaries and said that at least two faculty members had cited non-competitive salaries when tendering their resignations since May.
A proposed 30,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility with a seating capacity of 2,500 on the St. Croix campus would afford students with indoor work-out rooms and a venue for hosting performers and events, bringing the campus in line with the capacity of the St. Thomas campus, Hall said.
Hall dismissed any concerns that the expansion of facilities is not warranted in light of declining enrollment.
"It doesn't matter if there are 100 students or 1,000 students on St. Croix. We should not treat our St. Croix students to anything less than that afforded St. Thomas residents," he said.
Most senators who heard Hall's testimony expressed support for the idea of enhancing funding as an investment in the territory's economic future, and Hall acknowledged that he was "preaching to the choir" in his testimony, citing a number of legislative initiatives recently passed or in the works to enhance participation in college degree seeking among Virgin Islanders.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.