By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – The new president of Delta State University has spent much time on the road recently, actively working to attract students to the regional university.
Bill LaForge, who has been on the job since April 15, visited Lee County on Thursday, making recruiting trips to Baldwyn, Saltillo and Tupelo high schools. He’s visited three dozen public schools, he said, noting that enrollment growth is among the chief challenges facing the Cleveland school.
“I’m trying to commit a day or two a week to recruiting during the peak part of the year,” LaForge said. “I’m trying to turn over every rock we can because we are looking for good students.”
Delta State’s enrollment, which currently sits at about 3,600, has declined in each of the past seven years, LaForge said. Early indicators are good for growth next year, he said, with spring enrollment gains and with applications at a 10-year high.
“I think we are seeing a wave, but it is too early to cheer,” he said.
DSU currently has 35 students from Lee County, and generally averages about 30 to 45 from the county. LaForge hopes to make greater gains in the region, noting that the school has particularly success attracting swimmers from Tupelo High School.
“We are trying to do our best to reach out to those in Northeast Mississippi,” he said. “We want them to know there is another option for college. We are bigger than high schools and community colleges but not as big as large universities, and the personal attention is a big deal. The collegial nature is something very welcoming, and that separates us in addition to the great programs we have.”
Declining enrollment hits the Cleveland school particularly hard, LaForge said. Not only does it bring in less money in tuition, but it also results in less state funding.
Complicating that, he said, is that the Delta area has lost 47 percent of its population over the past 50 years, a total that includes both black and white residents.
The school has started heavily recruiting in the Memphis area and has frozen next year’s tuition at $6,012. It also waived its out-of-state tuition fees for all students.
“We are doing that to even the playing field in the recruiting war,” LaForge said. “We are encouraging students to come because we are an excellent school and a great value.”
Nearly half of the college’s graduates are from the College of Education. Other chief programs include aviation, nursing, business and the Delta Music Institute.