College Planning & Management

AUG 2012

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Recruit & Retain MISERICORDIA UNIVERSITY Recruiting From Scratch Why invest in football if you're doing well? BY MICHAEL A. MACDOWELL S TARTING A FOOTBALL PRO- gram from scratch at the Division III level is an expensive proposition. There are all sorts of start-up costs — from signifi cant investments in infrastructure and human capi- tal to uniforms and transportation — that could dissuade some institutions of higher education from extending their already tight budgets. On the plus side, though, football enrolls students. NCAA data and anecdotal evidence suggest that football players at the Division III level usually mirror the academic profi le of the fi nancial aid needs of other students. The sport also makes sense if the expenses of the program can be covered by the additional student-athletes or if the added enrollment can generate a surplus above the one- time and ongoing costs of the team. This formula is especially true if an institution is operating at less than full capacity in terms of residence hall space, classrooms, and faculty and staff. So why would an institution like Misericordia University, which has experienced solid growth of about 30 percent over the last 10 years and is operating at close to full housing capacity, undertake a new and expensive program like Division III football? The answer lies in the mix of majors and the strategic decision- making process that Misericordia used to arrive at the decision. Since its founding in 1924 by the Sisters of Mercy, Misericordia has emphasized the service professions. Recently, particular focus has been placed on the health sciences. The University now offers six health science majors, almost all of which operate at full capacity as dictated by national accrediting agencies. An investigation of data related to undergraduate majors of Divi- sion III football players suggested the vast majority of them tend to select majors in areas where Misericordia had some excess capacity, including history, biology, business, psychology, and communica- tions. For these reasons, the University could absorb additional students without adding substantially to faculty and staff costs. Misericordia has signifi cantly increased resident students from 450 in 1998 to 1,070 in 2012. While new residence halls have been built, data showed that still more beds were needed, particularly as football players tend to be resident students. As a result, we decided to build another residence hall. Given relatively low inter- est rates and a solid credit rating, the decision to invest in a new residence hall made good sense. Improvements in athletic facilities were already on the drawing board before football. Misericordia fi elds 22 NCAA Division III sports, hence the decision to build a second artifi cial turf fi eld and a fi eld house was made because they would serve other fi eld sports as well as football. As is the case with many good Division III pro- grams, student-athletes maintain excellent grade point averages. In fact, this year's scholar athlete luncheon hosted 139 athletes who held GPAs of 3.4 or higher. We anticipated about 65 football players in our fi rst recruit- ing class, but that number grew to more than 70. The University, though, did not anticipate the signifi cant impact our growing vis- ibility and the football effect would have on total enrollment. The 2012 freshman class increased about 33 percent, but only about 50 percent of that increase were football players. It's interesting to note that a number of women acknowledged they decided to ma- triculate to Misericordia partly because of football. Numbers and strategic planning aside, it is clear football is changing Misericordia's campus. A close-knit institution with a freshman retention rate of 87 percent and an overall year-to-year retention rate of 93 percent, Misericordia has always attracted good students and retained them. Football has added a new dimension. The excitement generated on and off campus has been noticeable. A preliminary kickoff event for alumni and friends generated signifi cant contributions. The new fi eld house and most of the added infrastructure were supported by contributions — about 50 percent of which we realized because of football. Football has worked. The decision to add football in order to grow enrollment in relatively under-enrolled degree programs and to strategically add to the infrastructure, thereby making it more appealing to football players and other quality students, has been rewarding. In Misericordia's fi rst year of the football program, enroll- ment has increased beyond expectations. The freshman discount rate is 3 percent below the ceiling placed on the institution by the trustees, and student quality mirrors that of our second-highest freshman class. And while a winning season in the very competi- tive Mid-Atlantic Conference may be postponed for several years, the positive impact on the University has been immediate. The fact that we may have to hang up the shirts we purchased years ago that read, "Misericordia Football — Undefeated Since 1924" may be a small price to pay. CPM Michael A. MacDowell is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, PA. Misericordia University and the Cougar football team kick off their inaugural football season Sept. 1 at Gettysburg College. AUGUST 2012 / COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT 11

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