Student applications are up. More people are visiting campus. Enrollment declines have slowed.
Those were three of the encouraging headlines University of New Orleans President John Nicklow on Friday shared during his biannual State of the University address, which he delivered before a ballroom filled with employees.
Nicklow, who has made enrollment his top priority since taking the helm as the University’s leader a year ago, said that the number of students enrolled at UNO declined 3 percent this spring compared with a year ago—the smallest decrease in recent memory.
“This is a very good sign,” he said. “I believe that it means that our enrollment decline is leveling off and we are reaching a point where we can start growing again.”
Digging deeper, the outlook only improved. The numbers Nicklow shared that there were only 33 fewer undergraduate students this spring than in 2016. And first-time freshmen and transfer students improved by 16 percent and 33 percent this semester compared with spring 2016.
Other notable numbers:
* Overall student applications are running 15 percent higher compared with this time last year, with freshmen application applications up 20 percent and graduate school applications increasing 2 percent.
* Campus visits by prospective students have increased 11 percent, with attendance to last month’s Explore UNO open house up 23 percent with 80 percent of the participants already at the applicant stage or beyond.
* Registration for early advantage orientation is up 73 percent compared with last year.
Nicklow said the University continues to be laser-focused on its efforts to recruit and retain students through targeted, meaningful communication, planning and offerings.
The University endured a cut earlier this fiscal year, but was spared a second mid-year cut by the state this February. While a statewide budget gap looms for the fiscal year that is scheduled to begin July 1, Nicklow said the work of those who advocate on behalf of UNO through the Privateer Advocacy Network have helped contribute to what he described as a “genuine and increased appetite to support higher education at the State Capitol.”
In the meantime, he said, UNO leaders are actively seeking to improve the University’s position independent of state funding through better utilization of facilities, including leasing space on campus to interested community partners.
In the area of academic affairs, new Provost Mahyar Amouzegar is working with faculty and staff to review and strengthen academic programs and create predictable budgets for colleges based on student-faculty ratios and student credit hours, Nicklow said. The moves are intended to create better budget predictability and increase hiring opportunities in response to anticipated growth in student enrollment.
In the area of research, new Vice President for Research and Economic Development Matt Tarr has already implemented increases to UNO’s internal grant programs across disciplines. And Tarr’s office is working on a plan to increase participating in the juried undergraduate research program, Innovate UNO.
Fundraising efforts are also yielding results, Nicklow said. The University’s endowment grew from $63.6 million in December 2015 to $66.9 million this past December.
“That is exceptional,” Nicklow said, “especially when you consider this: The average endowment for higher education institutions nationwide lost nearly 2 percent within the past year, while UNO’s has increased in value.”
More than $415,000 has been raised toward the $1 million scholarship campaign that Nicklow and the Development Office launched in the fall. Annual unrestricted giving is up 10 percent and the total dollars pledged through the student-staffed call center have increased 25 percent in a year. And fundraising efforts are also underway to modernize UNO’s hotel, restaurant and tourism facility and to obtain a naming gift for the University’s new School of the Arts.
Nicklow went on to tick off a number of other accomplishments, including the Privateer men’s basketball team’s championship season, the completed renovations to the fourth-floor of the Earl K. Long Library and the opening of a Diversity Engagement Center.
He also announced a few changes that are coming to help improve employee retention and satisfaction, including doing away with paid parking for campus staff and faculty—news that generated a round of applause from those gathered.
Nicklow said the University is also planning to pilot a program this summer that will allow staff to work a “compressed work schedule,” details of which are still being discussed. “Ultimately, we want our employees to have a proper work/life balance,” he said.
The president closed his remarks by sharing a new brand messaging platform developed by University Marketing in response to detailed feedback from hundreds of people touched by UNO. Unlike strategies based on flashy graphics or new colors and designs, the idea behind this messaging plan was designed to help better communicate the truths behind UNO, what it offers students and what it adds to the New Orleans community, using people’s words and stories.
“What we wanted to do was come up with a common vocabulary for how we all talk about the University,” he said, introducing a video summarizing the messaging plan. “That language did not come from outsiders—it came from members of the UNO community.”
The video that rolled highlighted messages about the University of New Orleans: “We are the determined.” “Challenge accepted.” “A shared journey.” “Tomorrow begins here.” And “The future is ours.”
At the video’s conclusion, those gathered offered their applause. And Nicklow offered his thanks to “you—our faculty and staff and our amazing students.”
“Let me close with this thought,” Nicklow said. “I hope that these messages capture something I feel every day on this campus—optimism. Yes, our community has grit and determination, resilience and loyalty. But we also have a bright future.”