New program aims to boost enrollment



The Panther Promise Program is one of several programs designed to boost enrollment at UNI.

CALEB STEKL, Staff Writer

The bond between coach and athlete is one familiar to many. This bond is developed by college coaches as they recruit athletes to make them feel comfortable enough to commit to playing for them.

Could the same bond that is used to recruit athletes also be used to increase undergraduate enrollment at UNI?

This is this relationship that inspired Robert Smith, executive director at the UNI Center for Urban Education (UNICUE), to develop the new Panther Promise Program (3P). Smith explained that coaches often begin recruiting athletes to play at their schools as soon as they enter their freshman year in high school.

“Why don’t we do that in the academic world?” Smith asked. “Why do we have to wait until students come to campus before the relationships start?”

According to Smith, 3P’s outreach strategy will focus on student interests and educating interested students on possible scholarship opportunities while they are still in high school. Smith noted that UNI staff will work with counseling staffs in high schools, where they will be spending two days a week.

“The student relationship [will have] started three years ago when they get to UNI,” Smith said.

According to Smith, the person who recruits a student to enroll at UNI will stay with that student throughout their entire time at UNI.

This recruiter will help with admissions, enrollment, and academic advising. While not their main academic advisor, this liaison will provide a steadfast support for both the initial transition to school and the four years they attend.

Smith said 3P will also be expanding UNI’s recruitment efforts throughout the Corridor.

The programs will include schools in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, and six smaller counties in northeast Iowa.

Currently, the only organization like 3P on campus is the federally funded Trio program. Trio programs are designed to assist underserved demographics such as first-generation college students and ethnic minorities. Trio has been in place at UNI since the 1980’s and works in tandem with the Athletics Department to monitor an athlete’s progress.

According to Smith, 3P is a necessary addition to Trio because Trio funds cannot be used to recruit specifically for UNI. 3P will allow a more targeted approach to admissions recruitment.

Thus far, 3P has been able to get 1,800 prospective students scheduled for on-campus visits with a goal of 3,000 campus visits by the end of the academic year, Smith said.

“Bringing students to campus is a powerful recruitment activity and creates an opportunity for UNI to stand out,” Matthew Kroeger, associate vice president for enrollment management said. “For many students, the opportunity to see a college campus and picture themselves there as a student can be a monumental experience. It is helping to introduce the retention component before they even enroll.”

UNI’s enrollment has declined in recent years. Since enrollment hit a recent high of 13,168 in 2011, enrollment has gradually decreased each year to 11,907 for the fall 2018 semester. That was a decrease in 700 students from last year. High enrollment numbers are vital for University funding. According to President Nook, over 90 percent of UNI’s budget is directly affected by enrollment.

During his recent State of the University Address, Nook cited various reasons for decreased enrollment: events on campus during the 2011 academic year, national discourse on the value of higher education and a healthier economy which may encourage potential students to work instead of attending school. 

Along with 3P, Trio, and a host of other enrollment efforts, Nook said he hopes UNI will increase its enrollment to 13,500 students in five years.