All about the money

FSU sees largest enrollment in school history

If you have to drive around campus for 20 minutes just to find a parking spot, it may be because Ferris State is the fastest growing public university in Michigan.

In 2000, the fall enrollment listed 9,847 students according to the 2010-11 Fact Book published by Institutional Research and Testing. Ten years later, Ferris’ enrollment for the fall 2010 semester was 14,318. This represents the largest number of students enrolled in the school’s history and a 45 percent increase in just a decade.

As state funding for secondary education continues to decrease, the university is forced to find alternate methods to cover its costs. When it is all said and done, more students equals more tuition revenue. It’s as simple as that.

Associate Vice President of Marketing and Communications Shelly Armstrong said funding other than resources from the state “basically comes from two sources: tuition revenue and philanthropy.”

Armstrong said since state support has declined, philanthropy is needed more now than in years past. In 2003, state funding accounted for 44.6 percent of Ferris’ revenue. In 2010, state funding made up 26.5 percent. That is where marketing and advertising steps in.

Recruiting and advertising are primary methods any institution uses to attract new students. Troy Tissue, associate director of admissions and records, said Ferris reaches out to prospective students with print media, electronic sources and recruiters.

The University Advancement and Marketing Office has used technology, such as social media websites and college search vendors, to help develop a new marketing campaign. Armstrong said the goal of the campaign is to promote the university’s career-oriented education and its 17 statewide locations.

Take a drive on US-131 between Big Rapids and Grand Rapids and you’ll surely notice the new-look billboards with slogans like “Don’t just transfer, transform” and “Education in two words: you’re hired.” Armstrong said the redesigned billboards are just one part of the university’s goal to reposition itself as a secondary education leader in Michigan.

“What we wanted to accomplish with the campaign is to differentiate ourselves from our competitors and focus on messaging that is unique to the institution which ties back to our vision and mission,” said Armstrong.

Though the correlation may not be directly from marketing, the number of prospective student applications increased from 9,097 in 2007 to 11,285 in 2009. Of those students who applied, 6,083 were admitted and 2,356 students actually enrolled as freshman.

A common misconception behind enrollment increases often relates to the quality of students accepted. It would be easy to assume that since the university has accepted more students, it must have lightened its admission requirements. The numbers, however, tell a different story.

The average GPA for first time in any college students at Ferris was 3.19 in 2010, compared to 3.13 in 2005. Additionally, the average composite ACT scores for first-year students has increased from 20.9 to 21.4 since 2005.

Tissue said there are numerous reasons for the increase in GPA and ACT scores, but implementation of the Great Lakes Scholarship is one of the biggest. The scholarship allows students from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, as well as others like California, New York and Ontario, Canada, to pay a lower tuition rate for up to 15 credit hours per semester.

“When we bring students from out of state, those students generally are a little bit more academically prepared,” said Tissue. “Not more so than a state of Michigan resident, but to leave home, they want to know where they are going and are usually well prepared academically.”

Ferris, like other public universities, has been forced to do more with less. Tissue said there has been no “fiscal surge” toward recruiting or marketing.

“What we have done over the course of time is as technologies and the abilities to reach out and touch prospective students has changed, we’ve moved with those opportunities,” said Tissue. n