VOL. 129 | NO. 158 | Thursday, August 14, 2014
U of M’s Rudd Touts Freshmen Growth
By Bill Dries
The student population at the University of Memphis is growing, but the city’s largest higher education institution is becoming more selective about those who apply for admission.
And University of Memphis President David Rudd said in the coming academic year, his first at the helm of the university, he plans to introduce the first needs-based scholarship program in the 102-year history of the institution as well as offer a flat tuition rate for students who continue on the school’s trajectory for graduation and attaining degrees.
“We give a lot of scholarship money on the high end,” Rudd told the Memphis Rotary Club Tuesday, Aug. 12. “The problem is most of the students are in the middle. They have some score problems in the ACT and SAT. Everything is OK. But what they have to do, they have to work more and those are our most vulnerable students.”
When the academic year at the University of Memphis begins Aug. 25, the number of first-time freshmen at the school will increase over the previous year for the first time in three years.
The 2,250 first-time freshmen this year is up 231 students, or 11.6 percent, from the previous year.
Among the first-time freshmen is a 46 percent increase in freshmen coming to the university from out of state.
Rudd says it is a reaction to approval in June by the Tennessee Board of Regents of the university’s proposal to cut higher out-of-state tuition rates at Memphis.
“That provides us national reach,” he said. “That provides us national visibility well beyond the boundaries of Memphis.”
Rudd also told the group of 100 at the University Club that 53 percent of applications were approved for admission in the coming academic year compared to 74 percent in the previous academic year.
“We have maintained academic standards and have not lowered our qualifications and actually our acceptance rate has gone down,” he said. “We had a remarkable increase in terms of the number of applications this year.”
Rudd became president of the University of Memphis in May, appointed by the Tennessee Board of Regents after serving as provost of the university for about a year. He worked closely with interim university president Brad Martin. The effort included better identifying the needs and situations of students.
“The single biggest challenge we have for our students is money. … We have had some retention issues over time and we’ve had graduation issues,” Rudd said of last year’s effort to talk with students about their needs. “What we found is the single greatest challenge was financial and sometimes that financial challenge at the end of the semester was as small as $300 that would prevent students from enrolling the next semester. Like most 19 or 20 year olds, they would say to themselves, ‘Let me take this semester off and work and save money and come back.’ And what do you think happens? They never make it back. Life gets in the way.”
And life is different from student to student.
“Part of the change in higher education is not just financing a business model. It is how we deliver curriculum,” Rudd said. “We currently serve six different student populations. First-time freshmen who live on campus is one of the smallest groups. We serve a number of different groups from veterans to return adult students – very different populations.”
For the first academic year in more than 20 years, in-state tuition at the university will not increase. And in the fall Rudd would like to have a plan for keeping tuition down as students move toward degrees and graduation.
“What we’re looking at and evaluating is a plan that we can hold tuition flat for students that stay on the degree pathway and stay on graduation trajectory and have a performance that is acceptable,” he said. “That would be the first incentive for performance directly back to the student.”
Colleges and universities across Tennessee as in many other states are now judged in terms of state funding by their completion rates for students instead of enrollment.