Developing more and better programs capable of enhancing both student "engagement" and academic success at Northwest Missouri State University was the main theme during Friday's Board of Regents meeting, which took place the day before more than 700 brand-new Bearcat alumni received their diplomas at spring commencement.
The regents approved a request by Vice President of Student Affairs Matt Baker for a new staff person within the Office of Campus Activities. The office, which basically consists of two full-time employees, helps direct a long list of student events and initiatives ranging from Greek life and Homecoming to academic honor societies and community service projects.
"We know that the more engaged and connected students are, the more apt they are to persist and graduate," said Baker, who added that Northwest's Campus Activities staff is smaller than those found at several peer institutions, some of which are direct competitors when it comes to recruiting new freshmen.
The Campus Activities office is staffed by a director, Angel McAdams Prescott, and her assistant, Brooke McBride, who is primarily tasked with coordinating activities undertaken by Northwest's fraternities and sororities.
"We've spread that department very thin, and I think we've missed some opportunities," said Baker, who noted that the university has about 130 non-Greek student organizations, which sometimes have trouble maintaining continuity from year to year due to a lack of guidance.
Giving McAdams Prescott a second assistant, Baker said, will bring consistency to Northwest's co-curricular programs and also make it possible to organize more weekend activities.
"We need to do more to engage students and make them a part of the campus environment, and to make the campus a fun environment," Baker said.
Beefing up Northwest's Student Activities operation is part of a broader initiative to keep more young people in college until they finish their undergraduate degrees. Though always a priority for university administrators, "retention" is crucial as the number of high school seniors preparing to enter college across northwest Missouri continues to drop.
The number of first-time, full-time freshmen at Northwest is expected to decline by as much as 9 percent this fall, which means the university needs high numbers of returning sophomores, juniors and seniors in order to maintain strong enrollment, which currently stands at about 6,500 students.