WMU launches Think Big initiative to help growth

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Western Michigan University hopes one big idea will improve enrollment numbers and help grow the university in the future.

The “Think Big” initiative brought together ideas from thousands of people on ways to retain more students.

According to university spokesman Tony Proudfoot, the project is about finding ways to set the university apart from other higher education options.

“We’ve had more than 5,200 people participate in this process either directly or through survey research,” Proudfoot said.

The university is already building a new dorm and student center as part of a major plan to upgrade campus facilities. Academic and financial aid programs are also being refined.

In the fall of 2001, Western had 24,013 undergraduate students. This fall 17,760 are enrolled, which is about a 26% decline.

“Our enrollment right now is perfectly correlated with the population of high school graduates so when that goes up, our enrollment goes up; when that goes down, our enrollment goes down. What ‘Think Big’ is really about is breaking away from that demographic,” Proudfoot said.

Western says it is not the only university in Michigan working to improve enrollment.

“Just about every university in the state with the exception of the University of Michigan and Michigan State are actually down in their total enrollment. Some of them have large freshman classes, but they also have difficulty retaining them,” Proudfoot said.

While university officials have not revealed what the idea is just yet, they have said part of the change is focused on flexibility for students.

“It’s a little unrealistic to expect every 18-year-old who comes to campus to know exactly what they want to do when they graduate and so (the goal is) giving them as much flexibility in the first year as possible, so once they know who they are, they can make more decisions later in their career,” Proudfoot said.

The university will start a series of town hall meetings after it announces more on the Big Idea Monday afternoon:

  • Oct. 14, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Bernhard Center South Ballroom
  • Oct. 15, 9 p.m. to 11 a.m., Bernhard Center South Ballroom
  • Oct. 30, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Bernhard Center Rooms 208-210
  • Oct. 31, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Bernhard Center South Ballroom

If you plan on attending the event, please RSVP online.

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