“We’re not going anywhere,” said Sul Ross State University President Dr. Ricardo Maestas. He addressed rumors and speculation that Sul Ross should leave the Texas State University System (TSUS) to join the Texas Tech University System.
“We are very happy with the support of the Texas State University System,” Maestas said, noting that Sul Ross joined the TSUS in 1920 and has been a member ever since.
A small contingent of Alpine citizens, calling themselves “Friends of Sul Ross,” has raised concerns about low enrollment and program closure. The group distributed copies of three letters which have been sent to Texas Tech officials urging support for a proposal that calls for Sul Ross to join the Tech system, stating that the transfer would promote growth in both programs and enrollment.
One of the other concerns by this group is program closures. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has mandated that all Texas colleges and universities must have 25 students graduate in five years for programs to continue.
“Deans and Department Chairs at Sul Ross have actively pursued alternatives such as program consolidation in order to meet the needs of the student population and continue to provide opportunities for faculty to teach in their fields,” said Maestas.
Much of the enrollment decline has been traced to the oil field boom. The Permian Basin presently has a low unemployment rate (about 3.5 percent), and Maestas noted that a survey of non-returning students showed that financial issue and in particular high-paying jobs were major factors in their decisions to leave Sul Ross. “So while the oil boom may help the Texas economy, it negatively effects college enrollment,” said Maestas.
“There were several issues, but the fact that they could go to work in the oil fields at $20-$25 an hour versus continuing to go to school and take out large loans to pay for their education was a major reason,” he said.
He added that Sul Ross is not the only higher education institution to feel the impact.
“THECB identified four of 10 regions across the state with colleges and universities that have experienced declines,” he said. Overall enrollment in public higher education has only increased 0.8%. In addition, several universities have lowered admission requirements to admit more students in order to meet enrollment goals.
Maestas noted that Sul Ross is taking aggressive steps to address recruitment and retention issues.
Enrollment strategies include:
* targeted recruiting of transfer students from Midland College, Odessa College and El Paso Community College.
* $1000 housing incentive for the 2013 Spring Semester for new students through the Presidential Access Initiative.
* a 10 percent housing discount for students currently enrolled and returning in the Spring.
* $500 scholarships for new transfer students with a 3.25 grade point average (GPA) or higher.
In order to address student success, the following strategies have been or will be implemented:
* Mandatory advising for students to ensure they successfully complete their degrees.
* Maestas created a Retention Task Force to provide data about the student population and to address growth strategies.
* Utilize a retention specialist and determine strategies based on the RTF findings.
* Sul Ross will also consider having a summer success program for at-risk students who need extra help before beginning their college degree plans.
* Hire Noel-Levitz, a higher education consulting firm which specializes in enrollment management and student success. Noel-Levitz will work in tandem with Sul Ross for the next 18-months to improve student retention efforts.
These strategies and others will work to increase our growth and retention.
Maestas reiterated Sul Ross’ satisfaction with its TSUS membership and its overall stability. He pointed to the support of the TSUS in the last legislative session that resulted in a $7 million appropriation Sul Ross to address major infrastructure issues including replacing its antiquated central steam boiler system and installing new energy efficient lighting.
He also noted that prominent legislators, including Speaker of the House Joe Strauss and Jim Pitts, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee have spoken at recent commencements. State Senator Carlos Uresti will speak at Sul Ross’ Dec. 15 fall commencement exercises. All of these made possible through the efforts of the TSUS staff.
“During the last legislative session, only $40 million in discretionary funds were available for higher education. TSUS received $12 million of that and in particular Sul Ross received $7 of the $12 million.
“This demonstrates the long-term commitment of the state and TSUS to Sul Ross,” Maestas said. “Our future is very bright and we are optimistic that the plans we have in place will make a huge difference.”