On a Mission to Grow
Viterbo Looks to Increase Enrollment One Student at a Time
When newly announced president Rick Artman arrived on campus more than 18 months ago, he immediately made it known that he was “(Vi)terbo-charged,” and excited to be part of Viterbo’s energy and growth. During that time, he facilitated a campus wide effort resulting in a vision for the future built on four priorities: academic distinction; a strong Catholic and Franciscan identity; enrollment growth; and access, affordability, and success.
As this article goes to press, high school seniors across the nation are scrambling to make their 2008 college plans. The possibilities are staggering. At last count, over 4,000 colleges and universities are clamoring to gain the attention of these highly sought after teens who are bombarded with a world of educational options.
These “prospects” receive volumes of mail, phone calls— they’ve attended college fairs, been subjected to grilling by parents and relatives about future plans, and now, it’s decision time.
Which of these students will choose Viterbo University, and why?
The answer to that question lies at the heart of the admission process and is crucial to a recruitment plan that calls for Viterbo to substantially grow enrollment. Just over 3,000 students currently attend Viterbo, a figure that could grow to 5,000 according to the plan which will be phased in over seven years. This growth, college officials promise, will be anything but a free-for-all grab for students. Instead, the initiative will be well thought out, intentional, and implemented in a way that supports the mission and unique Franciscan nature of the university. The projected increase will create many opportunities for Viterbo to expand its influence by reaching more traditional and adult students.
While the educational landscape is exceedingly competitive and crowded with other colleges that also want to increase enrollment, the sentiment is that Viterbo’s growth plan—based on past performance—is achievable. After all, the university’s current headcount is more than double what it was 15 years ago.
Furthermore, Viterbo’s reputation for offering a values and ethics based curriculum is attractive to employers, as well as prospective students and their parents. Likewise, the market for highly skilled professionals in healthcare, education, the arts, and business—the type of student that Viterbo graduates—will only continue to grow.
Still, college officials say that the success of Viterbo’s ambitious growth plan will require the involvement of virtually everyone on campus to assure that the quality and reputation of a Viterbo education is not diluted in the process.
Several students—the type and caliber of recruit Viterbo would like to attract in growing numbers—recently reflected on their experience at Viterbo.
Importing talent and creativity, all the way from Las Vegas
Lance Newton hails from the Southwest…beautiful, sunny, warm Las Vegas, which is a complete contrast to the cool overcast October weather La Crosse students were experiencing the day he was interviewed for this story.
A student at the Las Vegas Academy for the Performing Arts, Newton quickly caught the attention of Rick Walters, chair of Viterbo’s theatre department. Viterbo’s showcase Fine Arts Center and excellent theatre program prompts Walters’ national search to recruit top prospects. Each year, he travels to Las Vegas to audition students at Newton’s school and his efforts have yielded good results. At any given time, a half dozen or so attend Viterbo.
Newton, who had never traveled much outside of Las Vegas, gives Walters much of the credit for his eventual decision to attend Viterbo.
For Newton, who was accepted at the University of Southern California and Northern Colorado, it was Walters’ persistence and genuine interest that made the difference. “My high school theatre teacher knows Rick and they keep in touch. A bunch of universities came down to audition us. It was Rick who stayed connected and was interested in me as a person.”
The transition from Vegas to La Crosse wasn’t completely smooth, but Newton is glad he headed north. “I hesitated at first, because I hadn’t really been anywhere and it isn’t as diverse here. But, I needed to go to a place where I could slow down, relax, and collect my thoughts, which isn’t that easy in Las Vegas. I know you have to work hard here to accomplish things, and Viterbo is definitely a community that provides a lot of help.”
So far the fit is a good one. An extremely talented performer, Newton has earned roles in several plays.
Meanwhile, Newton is working hard to improve his overall grade point average so that he will be eligible to participate in a study abroad program, perhaps to Africa.
“I didn’t realize when I first came, how important it is to get good grades,” Newton said.
Now that he’s situated, his only complaint is the weather, something Viterbo can’t do much about. “Oh the weather!” he laughs. “Do you know there are some days here when the sun doesn’t shine at all?”
For Viterbo though, the picture is anything but cloudy. Newton represents a class of students who have been recruited from distant locales to La Crosse for a high-quality “destination” program of study.
Inviting academic excellence into the sciences
Meanwhile, another “perfect fit” was finding her way to Viterbo University. Danielle Quinette arrived in La Crosse from Cedarburg, just north of Milwaukee, a little more than three years ago, hoping that the small college that she had heard so much about would be able to help her pursue her dream to become a doctor.
At the time, Viterbo had just finished building the $11 million D.B. and Marge Reinhart Center for Ethics, Science, and Technology and the state-of-the-art facility featured new science laboratories, the first the university had seen in more than 50 years. Quinette, who scored an outstanding 30 on her ACT test and was ranked fifth in her class of 300 back home, liked what she saw at Viterbo.
“The Reinhart Center is impressive and so are the faculty,” said Quinette, biology major. “I liked the smaller school atmosphere. When I visited campus, Dr. (Ron) Amel—he called me by my first name and he had just met me. The attention I received was remarkable.”
Her stint at Viterbo has been rewarding. Quinette, 21, has a perfect 4.0 grade point average, she volunteers at the local hospital in the emergency room, and she helps fellow students as a tutor.
As Viterbo expands, the sciences have been targeted as a place where growth is expected to take place.
The competition for academically talented students like Quinette is fierce. While she received a substantial scholarship, Quinette, who could have attended any college, only looked at Viterbo. It didn’t hurt that her mother is a Viterbo alumna. Still, her decision to come to campus and the fact that Viterbo was her first and only choice, is what the science faculty have worked hard to achieve in building a strong reputation for their program.
“A lot of people are now looking at Viterbo. These are students who have been accepted at a number of other schools, but chose to come here when they had a lot of other choices,” Quinette said. “That says a lot.”
Nurses–more is better
As Viterbo’s largest major and one that perennially has a waiting list, by all appearances, nursing is the one program that should not be targeted for growth.
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
According to School of Nursing Dean Silvana Richardson, the unprecedented demand for nursing graduates needs to be met and she wants Viterbo to be the leader in addressing the shortfall.
Baby boomers are aging and will need quality healthcare, including increasing numbers of competent and compassionate nurses of the kind Viterbo graduates.
It is estimated that in order to meet the demand just in Wisconsin, more than 2,600 additional registered nurses will be needed each year until at least 2014. The nursing shortage is expected to reach 20 percent by 2020.
Therein lies the opportunity to grow.
The nursing program, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary, is Viterbo’s largest major. Six-hundred and seventy-four students are enrolled and job placement is 100 percent. Marquette University and Viterbo are tied for having the distinction as Wisconsin’s largest private college providers of four-year nursing graduates.
While being at the top has its advantages, Richardson is cautious to avoid resting on her laurels knowing that Viterbo must help meet the growing demand for RNs in Wisconsin.
That’s a lot of nurses, even for Viterbo. Because of the great need for more nurses, Richardson is busy planning the next steps to assure that Viterbo is ready. However, before more students can be accepted, a new nursing facility is required as the existing building doesn’t have the space, technology, or other amenities required to meet the very complex needs associated with training more nurses. And like Viterbo’s other programs, she wants to assure that special care is taken to maintain the university’s leading reputation for training nurses who are both competent and compassionate.
“I think what has set Viterbo apart is the commitment of students to teach holistic nursing care, to take care of the whole person,” she said.
A long-term goal will be to expand the bachelor of science in nursing program enrollment by 25–30 percent. And with perfect placement and jobs that start at $40,000–55,000, the prospects are appealing.
“The need definitely exists,” Richardson said, “and we are excited about the opportunities on the horizon and the responsibilities we have to our profession as leaders in healthcare.”
Growing enrollment and student success–one at a time
Nobody knows the challenges of growing enrollment more than Roland Nelson, vice president of enrollment and Wayne Wojciechowski, interim academic vice president.
With more than a half-century of collective experience, the two have seen a number of changes occur to the Viterbo landscape. Wojciechowski recalls times when Viterbo’s enrollment was little more than 600 students—less than 25 percent of what it is today.
Since then, Viterbo has accommodated the growth while at the same time maintaining a strong sense of mission and purpose. “I know it sounds like a cliché,” Wojciechowski said, “But there is something called the ‘Viterbo Way.’ It’s the personal attention that we provide and we haven’t lost that even as we have grown in numbers. People have to work at getting lost here. Students still come because they have a sense they are cared about.”
Recent surveys and other research confirm Wojciechowski’s sentiment.
In the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), students shared their opinion on how engaged they feel in the learning process and the grades these students gave Viterbo were impressive.
First year students gave Viterbo marks that exceeded national benchmarks in four of the five measured categories. Senior students ranked Viterbo even higher, exceeding the benchmarks in all five categories which included supportive campus environment, faculty and staff interaction, and level of academic challenge.
The findings revealed that twice as many Viterbo seniors participated in community-based projects as part of a course than seniors from other participating colleges. Similarly, when compared to students from other colleges, significantly more Viterbo students indicated they had developed a personal code of ethics and contributed to the welfare of their community.
Nelson and his admission staff, who ultimately must recruit more students, like what they see in these surveys.
“Viterbo’s reputation is definitely out there,” Nelson said. “We are now more of a first choice school. Students look at us as being different in size and in our ability to help.” Nelson knows that despite Viterbo’s many strengths, the pressure will be on to grow in order to meet his ambitious target. Yet, like everyone else who was interviewed, he is confident Viterbo will be successful in this newest venture to increase enrollment by offering more opportunities emphasizing the theme used during President Artman’s inauguration: Hope and Help.
“Each student who applies here—it’s one at a time. That’s the way Viterbo operates. Often, I will open up the file of a prospective student who arrives with his or her parent. I’ll look at the transcripts and other information and then I’ll say, ‘I want to tell you how we are going to help you.’”
“That’s our mission here,” Nelson said without hesitation, “and it will never change.”