May 20 2019

by Natalie Chandler
New Orleans CityBusiness

(New Orleans LA) - Xavier University President Reynold Verret began his tenure in 2015 with a goal of extending its voice to a much larger audience.

Four years later, he has built a strategy and team that includes a new vice president of enrollment and a provost, an expansion of academic programs, and a renewed marketing push that boosted Xavier's overall enrollment to its highest level in eight years.

The university had a 20 percent increase in new freshmen last fall, and its rate of retaining students jumped three percent. Total enrollment grew six percent and stands at 3,231.

Although lower that pre-Hurricane Katrina levels, it is a growth spurt that is prompting discussions about how to meet the needs of a rising population.

"We have been much more intentional about what we need to do, about where we are not hitting our stride," Verret said. "We are in an era of growth that requires a strategic approach."

Verret said he hopes within the next year to have a plan in place to build more dormitory space for 500 students. With an occupancy rate of 106 percent, Xavier had to reserved space last fall at the University of New Orleans and Southern University New Orleans to accommodate everyone. A sport for a new dormitory has not be identified, but Verret said it will be on the university's property.

The enrollment growth comes amid an aggressive expansion of academic offerings and recruitment efforts. Known for its training in the STEM and pharmaceutical industries, Xavier has added undergraduate programs in neuroscience, bioinformatics, data science, statistics, crime and social justice, and jazz studies. It has introduced new minors and established the Center for Justice, Equity, and the Human Spirit for research, teaching and public engagement.

Certificate programs have been expanded for entrepreneurs, health communication professions, and Spanish speaking health care workers. A master's degree program in health equity has been added, and the university is developing graduate programs in speech pathology and health sciences. Xavier recently partnered with Ochsner Health System on a new master's degree program for the fast-growing field of physician assistants.

There also has been an intensive push to modernize Xavier's recruitment efforts and reach more students beyond Louisiana.

"We have not always been as focused on telling our story and making sure people know the extraordinary success stories we've had here and the supportive environment," said Dr. Anne McCall, Provost.

Xavier reports that its undergraduate population is now 56 percent from outside the state. Keyana Scales, vice president for enrollment,  said there has been an increase in students from northern Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Detroit, as well as Texas and California.

Recruiters still use traditional methods of visiting high schools and college fairs, but Xavier now has a more robust social media presence and direct mail efforts, Scales said.

Attention from celebrities such Beyonce, who last year chose Xavier as one of four historically black colleges and universities to receive $25,000 for a student scholarship, has helped raise its profile. National press attention has prompted inquiries from people previously unaware of Xavier, including a physician who gifted the university $25,000 after reading a story in The New York Times, Verret said.

"A good portion " of Xavier students have very few financial resources, McCall said, which creates a challenge that is even larger than finding space to house them. Scales said the university has modified its financial aid strategy to assess the needs of lower-income students.

"Our biggest challenge is making sure that students who qualify for the Xavier experience can actually come here and graduate," said McCall. "We are very focused on how we can support our students financially, especially with new academic programs."