Student Success Strategy Results Point to Progress, Need to Stay the Course
June 30, 2017
The increasingly competitive higher education landscape continues to demand our very best efforts to see that Drexel thrives academically and remains on firm financial footing, and I am more confident than ever that, as a University community, we are up to the challenge.
As we move through a multi-year transition to a new student enrollment and retention strategy that admits students prepared to succeed at Drexel, it is important to take stock of our progress. At the same time, we still need to control costs and realign academic programs and administrative activities to ensure greater effectiveness.
In January, I wrote to you about the need to adjust to the impact of smaller classes of incoming freshmen as we focus on admitting students for whom Drexel is the best choice (“State of the University – 2017 and Beyond”). Now, the success of our university-wide recruitment efforts for the next freshman class has provided a clear indication that our strategy is solid and working. And for the rising sophomore class, we expect to meet or exceed the improved retention rates achieved with the fall 2015 class.
When we welcome approximately 3,150 freshmen this fall, it will be well above the original target of 2,400. And these will be students who are highly qualified and more likely to remain enrolled and graduate. Through many efforts across the University, we are telling our story better — both in terms of the real value of a Drexel education, as well as the exciting opportunities for undergraduate research, entrepreneurship and civic engagement. I believe we are well positioned in relation to many colleges and universities in this highly competitive environment in part due to the fact that we began this transition several years ago.
Please understand that the record-high freshmen enrollment for the fall does not signal a course change, either in our enrollment and retention strategies or the need to continue to reduce expenses. Along with recalibrating our enrollment strategy, our goal is to hold increases in total charges (tuition, room, board and fees) to 1.5 percent this year and for the next four years — a growth rate among the lowest for any private university, and which will accelerate our progress in making a Drexel degree more affordable. At the same time we are holding down the growth of our total charges, we have increased our financial aid budget by approximately 62 percent since FY13, to more than $278 million for FY17. As a largely tuition-driven university, this makes it necessary for us to continue to reduce expenses and seek innovative ways to grow revenues.
Given the reduction in growth to our total charges, and the significant increase to our financial aid budget, we are also reducing the size of our workforce. Both faculty and professional staff have been offered a voluntary retirement incentive program, and 142 have accepted. We have also had to reduce additional positions, focusing first on vacancies before proceeding with position eliminations. Our Human Resources team is doing everything possible to help our colleagues during this transition, including assisting with career transition services.
To strengthen Drexel’s position in the marketplace, we are also merging, or, in some cases, eliminating academic programs with low, if any, enrollment, while adding new market-competitive offerings to increase revenues. The latter includes a winter enrollment program for entering first-year students, and 19 new online degree and certificate programs for the fall.
Even with the intense efforts around this transition, the Drexel community can look back on one of its most successful academic years. We proudly celebrated the University’s 125th anniversary. Our research enterprise is thriving, and our students continue to achieve amazing things, perhaps best exemplified by the national success of Drexel’s Hyperloop team. Our student-athletes excelled and demonstrated the best spirit of sportsmanship. And we all returned to Citizens Bank Park for a second University-wide Commencement.
Looking ahead, I’m encouraged as always by the great strengths I see in our faculty and professional staff: your commitment to professionalism, your dedication, and your perseverance. Once again, I want to thank each of you for your outstanding work, and for your faith in Drexel during this time of transition and great opportunity to strengthen our University.