How is Western Colorado University faring this school year?
Enrollment is up — in some areas — and the institution is celebrating $90 million in recent donations. The first group of Engineering and Computer Science students have hit the ground running. Graduate programs are increasing in number — as are the number of students seeking advanced degrees.
Yet, the number of first-time freshmen is down for the first time in five years, leading some faculty members to question the school’s direction, the president’s salary and the general morale of employees.
That much was brought to light this week during a monthly gathering of faculty representatives.
Enrollment this year
Overall, Western’s enrollment jumped significantly from last year with the help of concurrent enrollment — or high school students taking college courses. University officials report a total head count of 3,412 as of Sept. 12, known as Census Day.
The Census Day figure offers a snapshot of students enrolled at that time; typically, the number of students enrolled changes as the semester progresses.
Yet, the number of first-time freshmen declined this year to 454 — down from 511 last year.
At the same time, however, enrollment at Western has increased 34 percent since 2011, when it was reported to be 2,242.
Transfer students increased by two from last year, and graduate enrollment grew from 324 degree-seeking students to 384. Non-degree seeking students are those who typically audit classes for professional development.
Overall, full-time equivalent students grew by 20 from last year, thanks in part to concurrent enrollment more than doubling to 981.
University President Greg Salsbury told Faculty Senate this week that the landscape of higher education is changing — and that two predominantly successful models have emerged. One model is an institution that’s inexpensive and highly accessible — such as exists on the Front Range. The second he called the “prestigious and endowed” model, with a significant brand, large waiting or rejection lists and sizable endowments.
He believes Western should follow the latter path in order to succeed.
“I believe higher education is in the midst of the greatest transformation in history driven by a host of variables,” Salsbury said. “For Western to play a meaningful role in the western Colorado higher education landscape 20 years from now, it’s going to need to shift significantly.”
Poised for the future
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment administrators are highlighting is the first cohort of engineering and computer science students through a newly formed partnership with University of Colorado-Boulder. Forty-three new students form the inaugural class.
Salsbury noted that number is four times the initial engineering class at a competing school.
The Rady School of Computer Science and Engineering is the result of an $80 million donation from Antero Resources CEO and Chairman of the Board Paul M. Rady — and an innovative partnership between Western and the CU Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Students studying at the Rady School will take their first two years of classes as Western students and will complete the final two years of the program as CU students. All courses will be delivered on the Western campus in Gunnison, and graduates will receive a Bachelor of Science degree from CU.
Rady, Salsbury said, has contributed another $10 million in funding for a new soccer field, engineering and computer science scholarships and increased marketing efforts. Salsbury touted the marketing and recruitment strategy that has been developed over the six-year tenure of his presidency, as well as the change of the university’s name.
Expanding graduate programs, such as the addition of the Outdoor Industry master’s in Business Administration, he said, is another example of how Western’s programs are appealing to a broader student base.
To date, seven graduate programs have been established at Western — including the most recent addition of a Masters in Ecology degree.
Discontent, and support
Yet, Monday’s meeting was not all celebratory. Salsbury answered questions submitted by the Faculty Senate regarding his recent salary increase of 16 percent compared to a 2 percent raise given to employees.
In addition, faculty members questioned the president about the decline in full-time freshmen and the university’s marketing strategy. Employee morale also was addressed.
Salbury responded that the university’s Board of Trustees appreciated his service and specifically identified his accomplishments in his six years. Also, he cited market conditions for his raise.
“I’m being paid as close to market rates as the trustees can afford,” said Salsbury. “I’m one of the lowest paid presidents of a four-year institution in the state, several of whom recently received significant raises in their compensation. This is the reality of market salaries.”
Further, Salbury said not every employee is getting simply a 2 percent increase, but rather will receive salary increases based on professional advancement.
But communications professor Jack Lucido queried the president about whether he considered a 2 percent increase a pay cut, considering the increased cost of living. Salbury said that could be the case, and while he doesn’t like that potential reality, salaries are on his list of priorities.
Salbury also defended the school’s marketing efforts, noting visits by university cabinet members and himself to high schools and a 10 percent increase in campus visits.
“We all want to grow,” said associate professor of Politics and Government Brian Bernhardt. “The question I have is ... is it possible that the model you’re advocating for is not working and we need to broaden our conception of what those models might be by turning to faculty and staff (for answers).”
Yet, Salsbury suggested that success shouldn’t be measured by simply undergraduate growth.
“I’m not saying it’s not important, but … it’s not the market that’s growing for a locationbased school in a rural location,” he said.
Still, Lucido questioned the impact of the president’s pay increase, compared to employees, on morale.
“I would say I have high morale,” said associate professor of Exercise and Sport Science Lance Dalleck, who noted his pay had increased significantly because of new opportunities. “I’ve had the most prolific five years of my career. … I think there are those who have another narrative who have grown professionally under the leadership.”
WESTERN ENROLLMENT FALL 2019
First time 151
Non-degree seeking 6
First-time freshman 454
Concurrent enrollment 981
Non-degree seeking 216
Partnership Program inaugural class:
Total number of students 43
Mechanical engineering students 28
Computer science students 15
Total headcount 3,412