Editor’s Note: This is the second 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.

McNeese State University President Dr. Daryl Burckel thinks getting students to attend the school is just one step in increasing enrollment.

The next step is making the college experience something that will keep them at MSU.

“Look, if we don’t do a good enough job of making the college experience better from day one of their freshman year, the perception of eduction here takes a hit,” Burckel said.

Having been president for a year now, Burckel is beginning to make the changes necessary to improve student retention. During that first year at the helm, he analyzed and paid attention to what students desire out of the college experience. Bringing enrollment back up to 9,000 from its current total of 7,600 hinges on keeping the students on campus for four years in addition to recruiting bigger numbers.

“What you are delivering to students really matters,” he said. “The first semester we listened and we observed. The only changes we did make were to start cutting the grass and making the environment in which the students were living … better. We want the appearance of the school to be a five-star campus. We made sure the buildings were clean, trash was picked up and grass was edged. Nobody wants to drop their kid off at an institution that’s ratty looking.”

He thinks a ratty looking campus gives the perception that students aren’t receiving a quality education. McNeese wasn’t doing a good enough job emphasizing its students services department. What happens when the college experience is de-emphasized at one school while stressed at another?

Burckel referenced McNeese’s decrease in enrollment and the success a rival school has experienced during the same time frame.

“You look at Northwestern State growing from 6,000 to 7,000 students to over 11,000 now … it’s where we need to be,” he said. “While we were declining just about every other school in the state was increasing.”

Burckel again emphasized “perception,” noting a study done with McNeese students in which they enlightened the university as to what they expected entering college in Lake Charles.

“Students let us know that they thought they are receiving a high quality education at McNeese,” he said. “But they expected a low quality or lesser quality education coming in. You have to ask the question, ‘What is it like to be a college student on this campus?’”

Perception about quality of education is also influenced by tuition costs. MSU currently has the lowest tuition cost among universities in Louisiana. Burckel explained that it’s not exactly a place you want to be. “Are we selling that low cost is low quality? Being on the bottom in terms of affordability is not always the best. We need to raise tuition to be more in line with NSU and Southeastern Louisiana,” he said. “If we are to be in line with those schools, we would need to be about $900 more a year in tuition.”

All of these aspects fall under the students’ experience and to tackle that, the university has re-instated the position of Vice President of Student Affairs. This is part of Burckel’s vision that began in the spring semester to establish a better first-year experience for MSU students. He said it’s about changing the culture at the university beginning with a student’s first day.

Dr. C. Mitchell Adrian, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Enrollment Management, echoed Burckel’s thoughts and shares his vision.

Adrian pointed to something as simple as changing the university’s mission. “Ok … so we sat down and we look at things and it’s easy … we change lives. Coming to McNeese changed my life. Coming to McNeese changed Dr. Burckel’s life. Our communities are different because of McNeese and what happens here.

“Frankly, I’m tired of being labeled as ‘Just McNeese,’” Adrian continued. “We should never settle for being just McNeese. I want McNeese to be first choice … the first choice university for people in our region. That all begins with the first-year experience.”

Both agreed that it’s the university’s job to educate first-year students as to why they are in certain courses all the way to connecting the dots to a final destination. “When you can’t show parents this is the result of education at McNeese, parents will take their kids elsewhere,” Adrian said.

With classes scheduled to get underway on August 20, McNeese’s leaders are ready to begin implementing the ideas that will make the student experience better. Those incoming freshmen will be a definite focus.