Xavier University entered a new era when Dr. C. Reynold Verret took the reins as president July 1, 2015. Despite a hectic schedule, especially leading up to weeklong celebrations Feb. 22-26, 2016, marking his formal investiture as president, Verret sat down with student media representatives to offer a better understanding of his vision for Xavier and how he views student satisfaction, enrollment, recruitment and retention. Topping the discussion list were Verret’s welcome into the Xavier family, change at the university, and his reaction to the “Student Customer Satisfaction Survey” a team of student media representatives conducted to assess students’ satisfaction.
A Positive Beginning
According to Dr. Verret, his first seven months at Xavier have been very positive, particularly his interactions with and observations of students, whom he said are friendly and courteous. “There has been a warm welcome with students. At the [fall] orientation, I experienced that upper class students were welcoming freshmen and embracing them,” Verret said. “You saw how they were responsible for each other.” He also noted the exceptional collaboration among students, which marked one of his first impressions at Xavier. While Xavier is a historically Black and Catholic university steeped in tradition, Verret said newcomers often struggle to understand why some rules and practices have been the same for decades. “We also recognize many challenges, many ways of doing things that functioned for us at a certain time, but may not sustain us because the circumstances of the academy and region have changed,” Verret said. “We can’t allow inertia to keep us doing what we have always done because sometimes it is not serving us well, and we have to have a reflection.”
External Review, Survey Similar Results
In the fall 2015, only weeks into Verret’s tenure, the Xavier Board of Trustees hired an external, professional review firm to assess specific areas for improvement. Verret noted that it has been a decade since the university had been reviewed externally. The reviewers talked with students, staff, faculty,and administrators to assess the current state of the institution and what improvements need to be made to sustain itself. Verret said many of the findings in the student media’s survey were similar to those the external review produced. “They talked about students not being received well in certain offices. They framed it as a customer service piece,” Verret said of the review firm. The reviewers “expressed concern that we are not being proactive in serving students in certain areas,” he said. Verret said he created an enrollment committee headed by Dr. Anil Kukreja, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to address the rising concerns of enrollment, recruitment and retention at Xavier. Additionally, Verret said a search is underway for a vice president for enrollment, whose job will be to address enrollment challenges, and a vice president for academic affairs to replace former provost/ VPAA Dr. Loren Blanchard, who departed in June 2015.
Recruitment, Retention Improvements
Currently, Verret has several plans to improve recruitment and enrollment at Xavier. As of Fall 2015, the total enrollment, including College of Pharmacy, undergraduate, and graduate programs is, 2,969. However, Verret .said Xavier can do a better job to communicate what the university does well, can make it easier for transfer students to retain credits, and must improve academic support and the overall Xavier experience for students. “It matters how we create messages and how we tell stories about Xavier. Even though you and I know about Xavier and other colleges, the world doesn’t know about Xavier in the way we think it does,” Verret said.
Verret also plans to make it easier for transfer students to apply and matriculate into Xavier’s core curriculum. “For a student transferring from outside of Xavier, it will cost you an extra year in order to fit the core. The core is somewhat large and often a barrier for transfer students,” Verret said. Lastly, he would like Xavier to broaden the demographics of the Xavier population, particularly among non-traditional students who are older and those who would utilize distance learning opportunities with online and hybrid courses. “We are very traditional with mostly 18-to 24-year old students,” he said. “Xavier hasn’t previously targeted an adult learner population. We have to broaden our experience.”
According to Kukreja, the committee on enrollment consists of staff from admissions, institutional advancement, alumni affairs, and student services, faculty and administrators. Currently, there are no students on the committee.
Kukreja said the committee’s top goals are to:
• Develop an effective communication plan to promote Xavier’s and students’ accomplishments;
• More effectively meet the needs of transfer students;
• Expand recruitment in Asian and Hispanic populations
• Recruit more international students;
• Create an alumni engagement plan as part of the recruitment process.
Kukreja said the committee identified two factors that affect retention: academics and finances. He explained how important it is for students to have access to help while they’re in college. “We are trying to create a culture where students don’t hesitate to ask for help. That’s the kind of environment that we want to create at Xavier,” Kukreja said. Improving a student’s overall Xavier experience is also part of the recruitment and retention plans. Kukreja referred to the 2015 Survey of Institutional Effectiveness and Efficiency, which has responses from over 700 students. “The institutional data shows that students are not satisfied with social and campus environments. We are aware of it, and this topic is being discussed on the highest level on a regular basis,” Kukreja said.
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