UVI student body shrinks 10 percent in 2 years
Published: August 30, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - University of the Virgin Islands President David Hall asked faculty and staff to put their heads together during a town hall meeting Thursday to address the problem of declining enrollment.
The university's student body has shrunk from 2,733 in 2010 to 2,455 in 2013, according to Hall.
The decrease will necessitate an institutional "paradigm shift," Hall said, and he called for all departments to work together to promote greater attendance at UVI, and solving the problem is not solely the responsibility of the admissions office or of the university's executive leadership, he said.
Hall called for the university to create a leadership "culture" with solutions generated collaboratively as opposed to relying on a top-down structure, in which solutions are generated by executives and passed off for implementation without other input.
Lagging recruitment and retention both contribute to the enrollment decline, Hall said, but the focus of Thursday's meeting was to brainstorm ideas for driving up enrollment.
While Hall presented no specific plans to address the enrollment decline at Thursday's meeting, he said a future town hall meeting will focus on improving retention.
Hall said the decline in enrollment is more pronounced on the St. Croix campus than on the St. Thomas campus.
Freshman registration for the St. Thomas campus dropped from 464 in 2011 to 363 in 2013. On St. Croix, the enrollment has dropped from 238 in 2011 to 171 in 2013, according to data Hall shared at the meeting.
While UVI is still at the top of the list of schools that attract Virgin Islands graduates, the data gathered during the last six years suggests that a greater number of Virgin Islands high school graduates are opting to go to off-island colleges and universities.
Of a total of 925 graduates in 2006, 198 attended out-of-territory schools. Of the 1,050 graduates in 2012, 236 attended out-of-territory schools in 2012, according to the data.
In his Fiscal Year 2014 budget testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, Hall shared statistics that suggest that the number of Virgin Islanders who will be of college age will decline steadily during the next two decades, which Hall said is in keeping with national demographic trends.
The number of Americans turning 18 hit its recent peak in 2009, and will continue to decline through 2016, according to Hall.
Still, those are future projections that cannot account for the enrollment decline since 2010 at UVI, he said.
"You can see that that downward trend isn't a product of the fact that students graduating from Virgin Islands high schools are just dropping precipitously. There has been some changes in that regard, but the number of students graduating are relatively in the same category," Hall said Thursday. "Completing applications, enrolling with us, is on a steady decline, so how do we reverse that?"
Hall also said that during the last three years, UVI had seen the gap widen significantly between the number of students who start an application and the number of students who actually complete their applications.
Xuri Allen, the director of Admissions for UVI, said enrollment for middle-tier and less-selective colleges and universities is down across the country.
The specific causes for UVI's enrollment woes are several, Allen said.
The university still is working on establishing empirical data about the causes, but, based on anecdotal evidence and his experience as director since 2010, UVI's enrollment has suffered as the territory's economy has wobbled, especially with the fallout from the closure of HOVENSA on St. Croix, Allen said.
However, more than that, "assertive, even aggressive" recruitment of local students by other schools, backed by deep and highly competitive financial aid packages, is a definite concern, he said.
Some stateside schools are offering financial aid packages so large that they overpower the in-state tuition rates at UVI.
"There are a number of universities that will meet a student's financial needs 100 percent without loans," Allen said.
Residents of the Virgin Islands seemed to have a greater resistance to using loans to cover the cost of higher education than in other areas of the United States, he said.
Recruiting students from the mainland often is hindered by the university's lack of a marching band and athletic programs, as well as by the territory's lack of convenience, such as large shopping malls, Allen said.
Overall, the university will have a much clearer idea of how to address the problem when surveys from students who are attending off-island institutions this fall are returned and compiled, Allen said.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.