Sands plans to lift up Cleveland

By Amanda Light

Feb.4, 2019

The Cleveland State University Board of Trustees moved its first meeting of the semester, Jan. 17, to room 313 of the Student Center to accommodate the 100 or so people in attendance. The main themes of the meeting focused on student enrollment and retention.

The board discussed strategic steps to implement President Harland Sands’ vision for Cleveland State University.

The board welcomed many speakers, some to report on the university’s financial wellness as well as representatives from the Student Government Association and the School of Nursing.

Among the many speakers, Rob Spademan, chief marketing officer, noted that enrollment for spring is down.
“These are the continuing themes I’ve talked about in some of the previous meetings,” Spademan said. “We’re struggling a bit on the international front with graduate students and the transfer student piece continues to be weighed down by [fewer] students coming out of the community colleges.”

Dean of the College of Graduate Studies Nigamanth Sridhar, Ph.D., assured the board that the dip in international students at Cleveland State is symptomatic of a national trend, saying that 2018 is the first time the United States has seen a net dip in the number of international students.

“To put it into context of the number of international applications, going from 1,100 to 575, we’re only down by 31 students,” Sridhar said.

He said overall enrollment is down only five percent as a result of increased efforts to encourage accepted domestic students to enroll.

Sridhar explained that Cleveland State could see an increase in graduate school applications next year because of the advent of a centralized application system, similar to the Common app, which Cleveland State has just enrolled in.

In an effort to get more students to enroll from community colleges, Sands announced that Cleveland State has entered into the Northeast Ohio Regional Compact.

“This is something that came out of some legislation in Columbus to incentivize us as a region to work together on efficiencies and partnerships among the community colleges and the four-year institutions,” Sands said.

Cleveland State and Youngstown State University will host the presidents from the nine other schools in February to discuss ways the schools can work in collaboration.

Sands said that the mechanism behind enrollment must follow the student to retain them. “It’s a holistic approach to who are the right students for CSU,” Sands said.

He stressed that from the time a student is contacted there needs to be a plan to get them to graduation.
“It’s not as simple as hitting a number on the front-end and then turning it over to somebody else inside the organization who’s then responsible for those students to progress,” Sands said.

To address the approximately 600 students Cleveland State loses between freshman and sophomore year Sands launched a graduation coach mentorship program.

Sands explained the preliminary findings. Of the 200 students most at risk who received coaches, 93.8 percent have been retained so far. This result is on par with the retention rate for the general student body.
Enrollment and retention, often considered indicators of an institution’s quality by administrators and others, also affect an institutions revenue.

When President Sands took office, Huron Consulting performed an external financial review to give Sands an idea of what he had to work with upon accepting the position.

Shandy Husmann of Huron Consulting said that one of the key conclusions of his report was “enrollment decline continues to affect the revenue line,” Husmann said. “Expenses increased at a slightly greater rate.”
He noted that Cleveland State is a tuition-dependent school and proposed 10 recommendations to more proactively monitor the flow of funds in the future.

David Gunning, board chair, stressed that overall the institution was in good shape.
“The two percent decrease in revenue is something that we have to look at hard; we can’t continue that trend,” Gunning said. “As President Sands said, we can’t cut our way to prosperity. We have to enhance revenue in every step of this institution. Obviously, number one is enrollment and retention, but there are lots of other things we can look to to enhance revenue.”

One avenue to enhance revenue comes from investing in schools that have reached their capacity.
Dr. Timothy Gasper, dean of the School of Nursing, noted during his presentation that they are turning away 40 percent of the qualified nurses that apply, in part because of issues of clinical placement.

“This is a school that’s needed more resources over the years,” Sands said. “If this is a school we’d like to grow and invest in, it’s manpower intensive given the skill set, but it is an example of how we can pivot the resources to where they need to be.”

Board members Deborah Vesy and Joseph Roman noted that their project, Workforce Connect, has centered its current focus on the common workforce need in the health care industry.

They hope to be the intermediary between Sands, and the possible cross-sector partnerships between Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth Medical Center and United Health.

Roman noted that the entire community needs to collaborate to expand the pool of graduating nurses to address the number of retiring nurses from the baby boomer era. While the school of nursing has grown, Roman argued, “those numbers could be 3X and we’d still be short.”

Board member Dan Moore said, “The two hospitals have more than $10 billion in sales. There isn’t a lot of facilitation that’s needed here. We need to think ‘How do we add 500 graduate degrees per year to our menu?’

“It’s what we really need to meet the need and really move the needle,” Moore said. “I think we’ve got to up our expectations here and think of ways to do it and pushing it on the outside is a great idea. If we don’t do it somebody else is going to, and we need the credit hours here.”

The next Board of Trustees meeting will be on March 21 on the fourth floor of the Gerald H. Gordan Conference Pavilion at the Wolstein Center.


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