RALEIGH — NCSUs enrollment grew nearly 20 percent in the decade ending in 2010, but university leaders began throttling back and now plan to increase the number of students more slowly to about 37,000 by 2020. Thats a rise of about 6 percent from the current enrollment of about 34,800.
Most of that growth would come from graduate students and transfers, as the university fine-tunes its enrollment mix to fit long-term goals. Those include student success and having a greater impact on the states economy by spinning off more start-up companies and providing more workers with the kind of graduate education that gives them an edge in high-tech industries, Provost Warwick Arden said.
We look at it as right-sizing meeting the universitys commitment to the citizens of the state for access, but at the same time having enrollment match the available resources so that we can keep the quality of the experience for students high, he said. We feel an obligation to give the best possible experience to the students we enroll, and to improve retention and graduation rates. If we had continued to grow undergraduate enrollment rapidly, it would take away from our ability to do that.
Like the universitys current effort to retool its departments, schools and degree programs, the enrollment changes are driven by financial necessity and by a desire to better fit into an ever-evolving world, where the states economy needs more forward-looking high-tech spinoff companies to keep competitive.
The new plan would shift NCSUs emphasis noticeably toward graduate work and research. The number of students seeking doctorates would grow 40 percent from 2011 to 2020, more than any other category of student.
The growth of new freshmen would be held nearly flat, at 1 percent, while the percentage of transfers would jump 38 percent. The actual additional number of transfers would be less than 400, but it represents an important tweak as transfer students generally are more efficient to educate, according to the plan.
Transfers can mean not only more cost savings to the university, but to the students, who can earn credit at less expensive institutions such as community colleges before transferring to NCSU.
Other sources of funding
Among other things, the plan developed by a committee, vetted by Arden and approved by Chancellor Randy Woodson calls for the university to develop ways to reap more money from sources other than the state.
It would do this by emphasizing growth in graduate programs that are linked to federally and privately funded research initiatives, that are supported with premium tuition, or where students are self-supporting.
That sounds like a rational approach to handling the realities that state-supported schools face all over the country, said Scott Jaschik, editor of the daily online publication Inside Higher Ed.
Because state governments have been cutting budgets, state universities that want to grow are having a tough time, Jaschik said. If most of their increases would be coming from graduate students, they probably are growing areas where there is financial support from industry and from government grants.
The goal of helping lift the state economy with more graduate students, more research and more tenured and tenure-track professors is realistic, Jaschik said, but it will take time.
Youre in the Research Triangle, of course, so you dont have to look any farther for evidence that investing in research creates more spinoffs, he said. Just dont expect it to happen overnight.
The specifics of the long-term plan are new, but NCSU administrators already had begun throttling back the size of the new freshman class from a peak of 4,792 in 2007. Acceptance letters went out last week to prospective freshmen for this fall, with a target class size of 4,250 off from last years target of about 4,400.
The steady downsizing comes even as the universitys popularity continues to rise with prospective students. More than 20,000, a record number, applied for spaces in the fall 2012 freshman class.
Inevitably, the reduction in openings and increase in applications will make it harder to get in, requiring higher test scores and better grades, Arden said.
Another aspect of the plan is boosting the number of tenure-track faculty. Thats crucial for improving the quality of education and inevitable if NCSU is going to increase the number of graduate students, to boost the quality and amount of research, Arden said.
In the period that enrollment was growing 20 percent, the number of tenure-track faculty increased just 1 percent, and non-tenure track instructors jumped by 23 percent. Given that there may be little in the way of additional money available, the university will have to change its spending priorities to hire more tenure-track faculty, Arden said.
Stronger, larger graduate programs, more doctoral students, more research and tougher admissions standards inevitably would burnish the universitys image. But Arden said that none of it was planned specifically to boost national rankings.
Of course we hope that all of these measures strengthen the institution, he said. We believe that if you do the right things to strengthen the institution that reputation and ranking follow.