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Oct. 27, 2014

Task force assess changing demographics

Students express comfort with current commuter identity

By Nicole Drake

Nicole DrakeIs Cleveland State University going through an identity crisis? A recent meeting of President Ronald M. Berkman and the Board of Trustees seems to suggest that Cleveland State is merely a victim of ongoing, changing demographics.

Due to these changes, a task force was appointed by Berkman.

The Task Force consists of 13 members — including faculty, deans and administrative staff — according to Enrollment Task Force chair Craig Boise, dean of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

“As a Task Force, we are working to formulate the university’s plan for addressing changing demographics,” Boise said.

Is the university struggling with identity or is this only a minor setback?
Correcting the impression created in an interview with Cleveland.com, published on Tuesday, Sept. 30, Boise told the Stater that there is “no problem” with identity at CSU. Cleveland State recently boasted having its largest ever freshman class in 2012.

Not only the largest incoming freshman class — beaming at an influx of 1,550 students in past years — but also the largest freshman class to move into nearby Cleveland State dorms — the university’s 1,100 dorm rooms sold out by the end of July of 2012.

Boise explained how these numbers affect Cleveland State.
“Of the 17,000 plus students enrolled at CSU this fall, approximately 85 percent come from the six counties of Cuyahoga, Lorain, Medina, Lake, Geauga and Summit,” Boise said.

The numbers are shrinking, which means Cleveland State has to compensate for the changes.
“Projections from the state indicate that in 2030, the number of 15 to 19 year-old-persons in Cuyahoga county will be 23 percent smaller than in 2010,” he said. “And something like 18 percent smaller in the six-county area.

The number of Cuyahoga County graduates from local-area high schools is also declining statewide, according to Boise.

“As of 2012, there were only 71 first grade students for every 100, 12th graders in Cuyahoga county,” Boise said. “This suggests that, over time, there will be substantially fewer high school graduates than there are now.”

According to Boise, these changing demographics over the next several years will mean less college-age students in the six-county area, from which most Cleveland State students are currently drawn.
Megan Matthews, graduate student in the clinical mental health counseling program, spoke about diversity being a factor that is much loved and appreciated by students and said that the university should play to its strengths to market itself as a university.

Matthews said that there is nothing wrong with marketing to both commuter and residential students, —considering some colleges are primarily, if not almost entirely residential.

“We’re a good mix of both, and I think that’s something that makes us stand out,” Matthews said. “I think that playing to the things that make us stand out is the best marketing tool of all. ‘Who are we already?’ Not, ‘what we want to make ourselves into.’ That’s what we should be focusing on.”

Matthews explained how she enjoys meeting people from different colleges, schools, majors and different walks of life, such as religions and cultures.

“It’s just a complete patchwork, and that’s something that I love about this university,” Matthews said.
Cleveland State has made a point to focus on commuter students in the past couple of years by opening the commuter lounge in Fall 2013, as well as implementing the U-pass, which assists students making their commute by public transportation.

Eric Kruger, senior Journalism and Promotional Communications major, said with the active benefits assisting commuter students, the university has helped him grow closer to campus.
“[Cleveland State is] close enough to where you can still live at home,” Kruger said.

Kruger said he noticed the potential behind Cleveland State and its ability to branch out to compete.
“I think CSU knows what it is but seems to be trying to expand and have the same image of other big schools and universities to the public,” Kruger said.

Is the university too focused on getting freshman through the door? Funding at the State level is now awarded to colleges and universities based on retention, graduation and course completion — retention and completion being the most important factors.

During the advent of the identity dilemma, President Berkman told the Board of Trustees and Cleveland.com, “The paradigm is changed — it is not how many people you bring in the door.”\

With the paradigm change, what is the new focus?

The focus is primarily aimed at using different marketing strategies, according to Trustee Bernie Moreno, president of the Collection Auto Group.

“We are doing 20th Century marketing in the 21st Century,” Moreno told Cleveland.com. “Students don’t respond to billboards and ads and agencies don’t look at anything else.”

According to Boise, the plan is not principally about creating a new marketing strategy.
“It is about identifying our strengths and resources as an institution in order to recruit, retain and graduate the optimum number of students for CSU,” Boise said.

The university needs to change their marketing strategies — that makes sense, as a growing urban university.

“Part of this is being clear with external constituencies about our identity as a university,” Boise said. “[Our identity] has evolved as we have grown in both enrollment and in terms of our physical campus over the last several years.”

He said that the Task Force intends to present the Board of Trustees with a set of preliminary recommendations at the November meeting complete with a full plan in January.

A potentially lower number of first-time, full-time freshmen, Boise said, can be offset by adopting strategies that will improve the number of students who stay in school after they enroll, which is why retention will be part of the final Task Force plan.