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Albany State President Art Dunning delivers his first State of the University address

Alarmed by falling enrollment numbers, Art Dunning urged his colleague to focus on "recruitment, retention and graduation"

Albany State University Interim President Art Dunning delivered his first state of the university address to administrators, faculty and staff Monday. Alarmed by two consecutive years of falling enrollment, Dunning urged his colleagues to embrace the “new norm” and focus on recruitment, retention and graduation. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

Albany State University Interim President Art Dunning delivered his first state of the university address to administrators, faculty and staff Monday. Alarmed by two consecutive years of falling enrollment, Dunning urged his colleagues to embrace the “new norm” and focus on recruitment, retention and graduation. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

ALBANY — Albany State University Interim President Art Dunning delivered his first State of the University address to administrators, faculty and staff members Monday morning, stressing that while the state of the university is strong, the school must embrace “the new normal and become a catalyst for change.”

“Key issues for HBCUs (Historic Black Colleges and Universities) across the country include relevancy, demographics, leadership, shared governance, service and attitude,” Dunning said.

The president also hammered home three realities Albany State must improve upon in the future — recruitment, retention and graduation. Otherwise, the future could be bleak for the university, he said.

“Enrollment at Albany State declined by approximately 400 students in 2012,” Dunning said. “The result will be a reduction in our state appropriation of $2.3 million for the upcoming 2015 fiscal year. Because over 80 percent of our budget is designated for personnel, we must absorb the majority of the reduction by eliminating vacant positions and shifting some personnel to funding sources other than state funds.

“We must also reduce travel, operating and equipment budgets. While these are unfortunate circumstances, we are in control of our beloved institution’s fate.”

That brought Dunning back to recruitment and enrollment numbers.

“Enrollment matters and growing our enrollment is essential to reverse the tide of declining budgets,” Dunning said. “Our enrollment management team is leading the charge to boost enrollment, but it will take diligence and a steadfast commitment from each of us to jump-start a new era of growth.”

To illustrate Dunning’s concern, ASU provided a five-year comparison of ASU total enrollment numbers.

In fall of 2009 enrollment stood at 4,473, in 2010 that number rose to 4,653 and in 2011 the number rose to 4,663. However, in 2012 and 2013 the numbers dropped to 4,275 and 4,261, respectively.

Dunning said tightened budgets are now the norm, but he added that Albany State must compete on a stage with universities who are also attempting to navigate the same storms.

“One of the biggest problems we are facing is that we are facing a reduced pool of applicants. Students today have more choices available to them.” Dunning said. ” We, Darton, and Georgia Southwestern are competing for many of the same students. There is little doubt we are going to have to make changes in our approach and we need to address our diversity issue.”

Interim Associate Provost of Enrollment Management Pat Wilson understand’s Dunning’s alarm.

“We are recruiting more aggressively in the Southwest Georgia region because it is our backyard,” Wilson said. “We are also beginning to bring in larger numbers from the metro Atlanta area. We have a full-time recruiter in Atlanta and we are also reaching out to non-traditional students such as the military and increasing our online presence.

“It’s also important that we work more closely with our alumni groups all over the state. They can be an important asset for us.”