President's Message to Campus - Sept. 4, 2020

Founders’ Day

Yesterday we celebrated Woodbridge and Helen Ferris during our annual Founders’ Day celebration. While we couldn’t gather in person as we have in year’s past, our campus community still took part in virtual activities held throughout the day, in addition to outdoor campus tours and geocaching with the Ferris History Task Force. In the afternoon our food truck, Bulldog Bites, was parked on the North Quad and Dining Services staff served novelty ice cream treats. Thank you to everyone who planned these events for our campus community to enjoy.

As we continue to learn more about our history and what Mr. and Mrs. Ferris did in creating opportunity for students, it is evident they both had a very clear sense of purpose. That sense of purpose continues and guides us today. Mr. Ferris’ words from 1906 resonate with me - “The Ferris Institute is thoroughly democratic – that is to say, it is a school for all the people regardless of race or station.”

Many of you attended my virtual Founders’ Day Address on Zoom. In this I highlighted the University’s past, our present adversity and challenges, and our opportunities. I also had the privilege of sharing our renewed commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion at Ferris State University. Much work has occurred to make Ferris an inclusive, safe and welcoming environment to all, but much work remains to be done. I encourage you to read “Our University’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” Beyond this I challenge you to declare your personal support for this commitment. Please do so by e-mailing [email protected] and your name will be added to this document as a supporter as we move forward. Together we can and will make a difference.

If you were unable to attend, a recording of the Zoom presentation is posted online. A copy of the PowerPoint slides is also available and annotated with comments and observations using the Adobe “Sticky Notes” feature. To view, download the presentation and open with an Adobe product. Please write me with thoughts, comments and observations you have on these ideas at [email protected].

Looking back over these 135 years, we have persevered through adversity and accomplished much, changing the course of many lives. Thank you for all you do to move Ferris forward. Let us all remember our strong heritage and the steadfast commitment we have to helping all students succeed.

Enrollment

In yesterday’s Founders’ Day presentation I shared enrollment trends we have experienced over the past decade. After stable enrollment in the first half of this decade, beginning in Fall 2016 we have experienced enrollment declines. With yesterday’s 4th day tabulation, enrollment continues this pattern. However, enrollment declines were as estimated in predictions used in preparing this year’s budget and should not require additional reductions. 

Here is a look at the fourth day count enrollment figures for Fall 2020:

  • University-wide fall headcount is 11,165, a decrease of 1,307 students (-10.5%).
  • University-wide student credit hours are also down 12,440.5 student credit hours
    (-8.8%).
  • At Kendall the fall headcount is 721, a decrease of 154 students (-17.6%) and of 1,312 SCH (-14.5%).

There are some good signs in these numbers. The enrollment decline for continuing students was the smallest we have experienced in the past five years, just 2.6%. Back in April, we were more than 25% down in continuing students. The concerted efforts of faculty and staff in contacting these students, encouraging them to return, and helping them register for fall classes was critical and made a positive impact. In this personalized approach there is a model that works for Ferris.

Along with the good work on continuing students, there is also a gain in first- to second-year retention for bachelor students from 76% to 79%. For the first time since Fall 2016 there is a small increase in FTIAC students at Kendall College of Art and Design. This is not the case in Big Rapids, where FTIAC students are down over 19% from a year ago. I do not believe these students chose other institutions, but rather decided to not attend college this fall. If this is correct, there is an opportunity here to contact these students, encouraging them to begin at Ferris in spring, summer or next fall.

I want to thank everyone who has invested time and energy in recruiting new students and encouraging our students to stay the course with us through this challenging time. You are making a difference, and we need to enhance and continue these efforts moving forward. You can view the enrollment numbers in more detail online. In viewing this year’s data, because of this year’s changes in course delivery methods due to COVID-19, it is difficult to make year-to-year comparisons for on-campus, off-campus and Internet-based enrollment. In addition, with the School of Education now in the College of Arts, Sciences and Education, and the Schools of Criminal Justice and Digital Media in the College of Business, year-to-year comparison here is also difficult.

Bulldog Beginnings

The first few weeks of the fall semester are a very important time for all of our students, especially now with the changes implemented on campus due to the coronavirus. We have always worked hard to provide many safe and engaging opportunities for our students to enjoy. This year our Bulldog Beginnings committee worked to develop new activities and reinvent traditions for our students that encompass current health and safety protocols.

On Founders’ Day the Center for Leadership, Activities and Career Services unveiled the new “Easy Virtual Fair” software they are using. This will also be used for RecFest, Bulldog Bonanza and the Student Employment Job Fair. If you would like to join and access this platform, use this login address.

Thank you to the Bulldog Beginnings committee and its co-chairs, Angela Roman and Eric Simone, along with the Founders’ Day subcommittee led by Kathryn Thomas. For the next two weeks, our students will be able to take part in activities that keep health and safety at the forefront, while still allowing them to engage with each other and become familiar with the campus. You can view the complete schedule of Bulldog Beginnings activities online.

Closing Thoughts

These are unprecedented times for higher education in the midst of a global pandemic.  Many people are making extraordinary efforts everyday teaching, engaging and supporting our students. Thank you for making it possible for our students to continue their education in these challenging times. Our education can be a stable anchor for our students as they deal with the uncertainty and ambiguity of this time. I am grateful and very much appreciate that you make this difference for them. Thank you.

David L. Eisler, president