A little over a year after ascending to the position of McNeese State University President, Dr. Daryl Burckel is rolling up his sleeves and going to work with one goal in mind — make McNeese … “Your McNeese.”
It’s the university’s new campaign to bring the local masses back to the Lake Charles campus. In order to do that, Burckel and his administration are targeting a five-parish area in Southwest Louisiana, setting an eventual goal of 9,000 students enrolled — a plateau the university once scaled.
“When I first took the job, McNeese was in a downward trend in enrollment. Since 2010, McNeese has been hovering around 7,600 students — which is down from 9,000, where we were at one time,” Burckel told the Sulphur Kiwanis Club this past Wednesday. “If you total those tuition numbers, by losing 1,500 students we’re losing out on about $7,000,000.”
Recent budget cuts by the Louisiana Legislature to higher education makes the wall McNeese has to climb a little bit higher. All public universities in Louisiana are facing the same obstacle. According to Burckel, only the state of Arizona has cut its budget for higher education more than Louisiana. As it stands right now, McNeese relies on a 75-25 percent ratio of tuition-funding to state funding.
“Since 2010, the State of Louisiana has been in the top 10 among states that have disinvested in higher education,” Burckel said. “We’re No. 2 — let that sink in. We have seen our appropriations from the state drop from $46 million down to $16 million. At one time we were receiving 80 percent of our revenue from state appropriations. Over the years with the cuts growing larger we’ve seen institutions raise tuition to offset the decline.
“The realization is you have to start operating as a private institution,” he continued. “When 75 cents of every dollar comes from a student’s tuition, you better be very responsive to that student — in recruiting and retainment. Back when the state was giving you 80 percent funding, it didn’t hurt as much when a student left your campus. Now … when they leave and they take their 75 cents on the dollar that hurts.”
So how does McNeese navigate the ultra-competitive world of student recruitment? Burckel thinks it’s a matter of going back to basics.
“Sometimes I feel like McNeese has isolated itself in Lake Charles,” he said. “We have not done a good enough job of letting people in Southwest Louisiana know that we serve a five-parish area.”
Enrollment figures reflect that the five parishes of Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis, Beauregard and Allen should be the target recruiting grounds to lure students to don the blue and gold. Of the 7,600 student enrollment — which will probably increase slightly once the Fall semester begins — 65 percent of those reside within the five-parish geographical area surrounding McNeese. Diving even further, of the 7,600 students counted in the enrollment, 900 of those are dual-enrollment high school students which count on the books.
With 6,800 “paying” students, the gauntlet is laid out in front of the university. That’s why the administration is targeting families within shouting distance of Lake Charles.
“We need to get into West Calcasieu because we have a large number of students from this area,” Burckel said. “We need to get up into Oberlin. We need to visit DeRidder. We need to go into Jennings. We had to recognize that we weren’t doing a good enough job going out into our five-parish area and letting the students and the parents know what McNeese has to offer compared to other state schools.
“We want to own our five-parish area. We don’t want students to migrate to UL-Lafayette or Northwestern State or LSU,” he continued.
Burckel expects McNeese’s enrollment to grow by 100 to 700 students when classes begin on August 20. He said it’s a start but it’s only the beginning if the university is going to achieve the goals he has set in motion.