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Education

As Enrollment Drops, Marshall Aims To Change Spending Strategy

MU Brad Smith.jpg
David Adkins
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Marshall University President Brad Smith discusses what he has learned in his first 100 days as president.

After receiving 1,200 suggestions from listening sessions over his first 100 days, Marshall University President Brad D. Smith identified enrollment, the experience of students, and faculty needs as the major areas Marshall needs to improve.

Marshall has lost a fifth of the enrollment it had six years ago. Smith said part of the reason was common skepticism toward investing time and money into getting a degree. He also said that Marshall’s decline in enrollment mirrored a similar economic decline in the southwestern part of West Virginia, where the university receives the majority of its enrollment.

“After 2026, just given the birth rate in our country, it starts to drop precipitously, if you're only focused on 18 year olds coming to college, then your enrollment is going to go down just because the demographics are not working in your favor,” Smith said when discussing a national trend known as the, “enrollment cliff.”

Marshall hopes to improve enrollment by reducing tuition. The school is also shifting their focus away from 18 year olds and towards potentially older students over a wider geographical area.

Smith also hopes to improve enrollment by using a “high flex education model,” which will give students the opportunity to attend classes both in person and virtually.

Marshall is also working with McKinsey Consulting to make operations, such as the student bookstore, more accessible to older, employed students.

In 2021, McKinsey agreed to a nearly $573 million settlement with 47 states over investigations into their involvement with the opioid epidemic.

“I don't feel conflicted,” Smith responded when asked about McKinsey Consulting’s controversy. “The reason why I don't feel conflicted is they are all in to try and do this right.”

To support Marshall faculty, Smith says that the school needs to match the compensation from other universities and he is looking to support their faculty by lightening the workload. “When you're a research university, you need more labs, you need more graduate assistants, you need to give your professors a chance to back off a little bit on teaching load and increase the opportunity to do other things,” Smith said. “We haven't kept pace.”

By saving two months of operating cash as a baseline, Marshall is looking to become financially resilient toward an event such as another pandemic. Beyond that reserve, Smith says the university will put that money towards students, faculty, and improving existing infrastructure.


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