In five years, Butler University President Bobby Fong wants to vault his school into the top 10 of the nation’s master’s
universities—schools that offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees but few doctorates.
To get there, Fong knows Butler has to invest in its faculty and academic program. But that costs money. And Butler is facing constraints on its biggest source of funds—undergraduate students.
So Butler officials, in a strategic plan they will launch Aug. 26, say they must find new revenue streams. The main candidates? Additional graduate programs, a summer semester and more focus on adult education.
“Both the opportunity and the challenge over the next few years is trying to get an increased profile,” Fong said in an interview.
Butler’s key peers in academics are
also its peers on the basketball court—universities such as Creighton, Gonzaga, Valparaiso, Villanova
and Xavier. All those schools score better than Butler on U.S. News & World
Report’s annual rankings. The rankings are compiled regionally, not nationally,
but based on its score, Butler would tie for No. 13 in the nation.
Those schools also tend to pay better than Butler, where the average salary across all faculty ranks is $66,500, according to the American Association of University Professors. By contrast, Creighton, in Omaha, Neb., pays its faculty members $75,300 on average.
Fong said he wants to “invest more in faculty and staff,” opening more opportunities for professors to spend time on research and work with students as they do.
That’s important for providing better education. But it also helps in the rankings. Faculty resources count for 20 percent of the U.S. News rankings and the opinions of high-ranking academic officials at other schools account for another 25 percent.
Fong has focused Butler’s fund raising on supporting new faculty positions, new academic research centers, and scholarships for top-notch students. In May, Butler successfully completed a $154 million fund-raising campaign called ButlerRising: A Human Capital Campaign.
But the focus on people means Butler isn’t planning to build a slew of expensive buildings to accommodate more undergraduates. Its student body capacity is 4,000—giving it a slim cushion above its current undergraduate enrollment of about 3,800.
At the same time, all universities face a demographic shift that will see the number of high school graduates drop across the country until 2015, with a particularly steep 8-percent decline in the Midwest—the source of 80 percent of Butler’s students.
“Given the anticipated demographic declines, competition for talented students will grow more intense,” Butler’s officials wrote in their new five-year strategy, titled, “Dare to Make a Difference.”
Indeed, Butler has already seen schools in other Midwestern states beef up recruiting in Indiana, which will see only a slight decline in high school graduates, according to projections by the Western International Commission for Higher Education.
And even that decline is being counterbalanced by a growing number of Hoosier high schoolers enrolling in college. The state ranks 10th nationally in that category.
“There’s this kind of broad-based recognition that a high school education is not enough,” said Jason Bearce, spokesman for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. “That increases the pool” of potential college students, he added.
But Butler is preparing for the need to put more money into student scholarships. It raised $30 million in its capital campaign to fund new scholarships.
Butler currently provides financial aid to offset nearly 38 percent of its $28,000 tuition. But if it spends much more than that, it will have to raid budgets for education programs and salaries.
So the university is looking to bring in more revenue from its existing assets, which are housed in its stately stone buildings, on the western edge of the tony neighborhoods of Butler-Tarkington and Meridian-Kessler.
The best way to do that is to use its classrooms and labs when undergraduates aren’t—evenings and summers, said Tom Weede, Butler’s vice president for enrollment.
“It’s a way we can build revenue without having to build new facilities,” Weede said, although the school might need to hire more professors. He added, “Because our enrollment can’t significantly grow, then we have to look for other reasonable sources of revenue.”
Butler already has 20 graduate programs in such fields as business, pharmacy, health sciences and music. Those programs enroll about 600 students each year.
But school officials think they can do more. “We have not optimized our capacity to serve needs for graduate education,” the strategy reads.
It adds that, because of the “revenue-generating potential of graduate programs”—which often charge more and have nowhere near the overhead required to house undergraduates on campus, “Butler should plan for and launch viable new graduate programs that are consistent with our mission and are educationally and financially sustainable.”
Butler is considering programs in such areas as environmental science and communications. It’s also looking at an additional executive MBA program and perhaps a doctorate in education.
“It’s a matter of looking at things where we could serve the community and that would be critical to our mission,” Weede said. New programs will also build on strengths Butler already has, he said. “We’re not going to start a culinary program.”•