Southwest Baptist shows strength in numbers
BOLIVAR—Southwest Baptist University (SBU) celebrated rising enrollment Oct. 16 as the SBU Board of Trustees voted to approve a five-year strategic initiative plan that they hope will help build the university’s endowment to $40 million by 2012.
Buoyed by news that SBU recently completed its second consecutive budget year in the black, trustees approved a $38.1 million budget for 2007-2008 that includes seven percent salary increases for faculty and staff.
SBU President C. Pat Taylor reflected back on the 129-year history of the university and stated that things have never been better. SBU has grown from six faculty members and 69 students to 320 employees and 3,539 students. The total headcount number is up one percent from last year’s figure of 3,503, and the number of undergraduate students on the Bolivar campus rose from 1,521 to 1,560, which represents a 2.6 percent increase.
“That is a great accomplishment for us, and we’re very, very pleased,” said Taylor, noting that universities in rural settings like Bolivar often have flat or declining enrollment numbers.
“There’s so much competition out there. Not only do we have to compete with the traditional liberal arts universities but we have community colleges, we have proprietary schools that are in the business now. There’s more competition today than ever before for students.”
One indication of how well SBU is doing in enrollment comes in the area of retaining freshmen, which used to occur at a 68-72 percent rate. Last year’s rate was 82 percent, Taylor said, which led to the setting of an 85 percent goal for this year. It actually came in at a remarkable 86 percent.
Taylor is also encouraged by the academic caliber of the incoming SBU students. The average ACT score for freshmen is 23, and over the last three years, the president has been asked to call all incoming freshmen who scored 30 or higher. The number of students in that category has risen from 28 to 42 to 54, he said.
Southwest Baptist has 949 off-campus undergraduate students and 787 graduate students besides the 1,560 undergrads on the main campus. Taylor said he would like to see the Bolivar enrollment crack the 1,600 barrier in the next five years. The optimum level there would appear to be between 1,650 and 1,700, he said.
Noel-Levitz, a professional consulting firm out of Des Moines, Iowa, has been helping SBU work on increasing its enrollment since 2005. Trustees voted to maintain their relationship with the firm.
The five-year plan not only touches on slow, steady enrollment growth but fiscal responsibility and expansion by means of boosting the university’s endowment of approximately $18.5 million. In June, 48 faculty, staff and administrators met with three trustees in a two-day, long-range planning retreat. Prior to that, two committees developed data analyzing SBU’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The outcome was a renewed commitment to the SBU mission statement and some new challenges that include maintaining salary increases, renovating the Mabee Chapel and gearing up the university’s estate planning department.
“Our mission will not change,” Taylor said. “We are who we are. My vision for the university is that we will always stay embedded in Baptist principles, our Baptist heritage. Our goal is always to be the best Baptist university we can be—the best agency of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) we can be.”
SBU Trustee David Tolliver of Jefferson City, who currently serves as MBC Interim Executive Director, has rotated off the board. Tolliver was one of 16 trustees present Oct. 16.
“I’ve always appreciated your preparation,” Taylor said. “You’ve always asked the tough questions. We’re doing a better job of presenting the budget now because of your tough questions.”
Another trustee, Art Allen of Centralia, also has rotated off after serving more than 30 years.