Editor’s Note: This is the third of a three-part series focusing on McNeese President Dr. Daryl Burckel’s crusade to increase McNeese enrollment and improve the college experience for MSU students.

When Dr. Daryl Burckel took over the reins of McNeese State University as its president in July of 2017, he wanted a dissection of the issues with enrollment from a fresh pair of eyes so to speak.

The university elicited the help of Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a higher education enrollment management consulting firm. Senior Vice President of Levitz, Robert Baird, took on the McNeese consult and he and Burckel began to pinpoint areas where the university can strengthen its enrollment.

“We invited a group called Noel Levitz in to look at our enrollment management practices,” Burckel said. “Rob Baird came in to do the assessment and was on his 425th school visit. He’s been around the block. He knows what he’s looking at and you cannot pull the wool over his eyes.”

One of those 425 visits around the nation took place at McNeese State 10 years ago, a fact Burckel and the administration learned through talks with Baird.

“He (Baird) said to me, ‘You know I was here 10 years earlier.’ I didn’t know that and he told me they did an assessment back then and left a book of recommendations. He said that he noticed that the university had not implemented any of the recommendations. It’s one of those things … you do a study and it gets put on a shelf. That happens a lot, especially with larger organizations,” Burckel said.

According to Burckel another study that took place at that time was an effort to move McNeese’s nursing department forward to an RN to BSN program. They found a third party platform provider that would run the program — including packaging and recruiting. That study was presented and also put on the shelf. The RN to BSN program was still provided, but Burckel said it wasn’t the one they had in mind.

At the same time, UL-Lafayette implemented the same program McNeese was seeking and currently features a much larger RN to BSN program. Burckel said it’s an example of not taking advantage of what the university has to offer. “It’s an opportunity that was missed six years ago,” he said.

“When we start talking about why our enrollment went down from 9,000 to 6,800, Noel Levitz basically said our enrollment management practices — our recruiting and retention practices — are out of date and insufficient for what we need for today,” Burckel continued.

On one hand, the university discovered that part of the obstacle to an increased enrollment was the push by industrial expansion for students to enter into trades education and industrial skills with the amount of jobs available. On the other hand, Burckel admits that the university hadn’t been doing what it needed to in order to adjust at the time.

“Look, there is no doubt that the success of our school is going to depend on enrollment,” Burckel said. “All you have to do is look at our faculty. They haven’t had raises since 2008. If you factor in inflation, they’ve taken about a 12 percent decrease in disposable income.”

Therein lies the rub.

In order for McNeese to raise faculty pay, which lures the best educators, which in turn helps recruit the best students, an increase in funding from tuition — i.e. higher enrollment — needs to take place as the foundation for his crusade, according to Burckel. “I told the faculty recently to not expect the state to just ride in on a white horse and save us,” he said. “They are trying to cut us every year. Our increase in funding has to come from tuition. If we want to see an upwards trajectory, we need to increase enrollment.”

Noel Levitz began working with McNeese to implement changes last week. The university had hoped they could work with Noel Levitz beginning in January of 2018, but Burckel said since it takes an extended period of time to push through a contract at a state institution, they won’t see any effect on the enrollment of Fall 2018.

He said they hope to see the results of the changes in the enrollment figures for Fall of 2019.