Waco Tribune-Herald: MCC mulling strategic plan to attract more students through expanded offerings

May 30, 2012

Article reprinted with the permission of The Waco Tribune-Herald.

By REGINA DENNIS

Sunday May 27, 2012

McLennan Community College is exploring the creation of a new strategic plan that would amp up student services and academic offerings to court more students from throughout the state.

Administration officials propose adding more campus amenities like a state-of-the-art student life and wellness center, outdoor recreation, on-campus housing and additional classroom facilities to offer students a university experience with the affordability of a community college.

The plan would call for enhancing academic and advising programs, as well as expanding the University Center, which allows students to take courses at MCC and earn degrees from public universities like Tarleton State and Texas Tech, among others.

The administration has not drafted a formal plan for the overhaul, which would be enacted during the course of a decade, and officials only have started discussing options for MCC's future direction.

The ideas were introduced to the board of trustees during a retreat last week.

"We started looking at what are our future opportunities out there that we're not currently actively finding," said Paul Illich, vice president of research, planning and Internet technology.

"There's some additional market research that would need to take place to really flesh everything out, but we didn't want to move in that level of detail without discussing it (with the board)."

The impetus for the new vision is concern about decreased funding from the state.

State appropriations make up 25 percent of MCC's revenue, but the funding level has steadily dropped during the past decade.

Rather than seek more revenue through property tax increases or raise tuition -- trustees have increased the per semester hour tuition and fees rate by $24 in the past two years -- the administration wants to draw more students from outside McLennan County to make up for any future drops in state revenue.

"We don't want to make tuition so high that it hurts access to education," MCC President Johnette McKown said.

Currently, students from other Texas counties pay $18 more per semester hour than McLennan County students, while out-of-state and international students pay $75 more per semester hour. About 83 percent of the fall 2011 students were McLennan County residents.

Illich said MCC could tap into the growing number of high school graduates who want a full-service university experience but cannot afford higher tuition rates at most public or private universities.

About 54 percent of the students who were enrolled at MCC in the most recent fall semester intended to take some courses and transfer to another university, he said.

Illich noted that there already has been overwhelming response to the new Baylor @ MCC program rolling out this fall.

Through a partnership between the two schools, wait-listed Baylor students take courses at MCC, paying MCC's tuition rate, but receive full access to Baylor student services.

Illich said the program targeted only 50 wait-listed students, but Baylor received inquiries from more than 100 students wanting to take advantage of the initiative.

Adding on- or near-campus housing will be critical to drawing more new high school grads, Illich said. MCC could encourage private developers to consider building apartment complexes, or the college could build and maintain its own housing.

Other ideas

Other ideas for attracting those students include transforming MCC's riverfront for water recreation like kayaking or paddle boating; upgrading the dining facility with more grab-and-go food stations; adding another classroom building and enhancing the Business and Technology building; and creating more public transportation options to and from campus.

"Student housing and extended student activities is really what the full-service experience is about," McKown said. "We have limited intramurals, but most of the time students are going to come and leave. And we're attracting students that are on financial aid, so they're living as cheaply as they can at home. So, this is another population that we're looking at."

In addition, MCC would develop more specialized course packages, such as a pre-med track, and create articulation agreements with different universities to make sure students' credits will transfer smoothly.

"We know that when students come here, if they are of a transfer mind, they really want to be thinking of where they're going," McKown said. "If they're going to Texas A&M, they're going to be thinking of themselves as an A&M student . . . so we want to make sure we can help them to those goals, and that's why articulation and counseling and advising up front is important."

Illich said the University Center also has the potential to draw more students to MCC. There were 966 students enrolled in the center in the fall 2011 semester, but Illich said that population could grow to 3,000 by 2020 with some modifications.

The greatest change would be offering more University Center courses during traditional school hours. Most of the University Center courses are taught in the evening, Illich said.

Campus surveys

Illich said numerous campus surveys showed that 60 to 70 percent of the students who are interested in enrolling in the University Center would prefer to have more day classes with in-person instruction.

Eventually, a new campus building with classroom and office space for the program would be needed.

The University Center uses about 30 classrooms in the Michaelis Academic Center.

A third new student population the school would like to target is international students.

MCC has 82 international students, including 38 from Mexico, but Illich said that population could grow to 1,000 by the end of the decade with the enhanced campus offerings and University Center expansion.

The ideas were well-received by trustees during the retreat.

"I think continuing the development of the University Center is an absolute must. Even if we cut off our borders at McLennan County, that should be number one to providing affordable education," Board Vice Chairman K. Paul Holt said.

"I don't think that opening our recruiting or enhancing the number of out-of-district students would take anything away whatsoever."

The board directed Illich to begin more in-depth market research to determine whether the market demand would support the proposed expansion.

Illich said he expects the research to take place during the next few months.

Once the board formally commits to the proposed expansion, a task force would form to develop a strategic plan detailing the steps, timeline and costs of adding the new facilities and programs.

"I think this is a direction that has some possibilities for us to be more and better than what we are without sacrificing who we are," Board Chairman Randy Cox said. "I think we're poised to do it, but it's going to take us taking a chance."