Q+A — Dr. Howard Ballentine, Dean of Enrollment ManagementApr 27th, 2012 | By admin | Category: Features
By Bill Cook
Dr. Howard Ballentine believes Wesley College is on the cusp of something special. The college, he says, is clearly on the move and primed for a big jump in prestige and market share. As Wesley’s new dean of enrollment management it will be his job to help make sure that vision becomes a reality.
Hired in August 2011, Ballentine will oversee the day-to-day operations and long-range planning for admissions and institutional research. Ballentine assumes his new responsibilities at a time of great excitement – and a time of great challenge. The challenge facing Wesley – and colleges across the country – is how to continue to attract talented students in an era of intense competition, rising costs and concerns over student retention.
Ballentine comes to Wesley with the education and experience to deal with these and other related issues. He earned a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in educational leadership and policy studies with a concentration in higher education and student affairs recently, Ballentine worked at Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, Va., as dean for enrollment management and planning. There he was in charge of admissions, financial aid, institutional research and strategic planning. Ballentine’s background of data-driven management decisions will help Wesley become more efficient in how it spends its recruiting dollars.
President Bill Johnston calls Ballentine a very welcome addition to the college. “I am very pleased to have Howard, his wife, Lynn Ann, and their two sons [Connor, age 9, and Christopher, age 6] join the Wesley community,” he says. “Dr. Ballentine brings experience and expertise in enrollment management and institutional research that will be extremely helpful to Wesley College.”
Recently, Ballentine shared his thoughts and ideas about the college’s enrollment goals and other challenges.
Q. What is the strategy for crafting the next class? How do you continue to attract high-achieving students?
We have a well-established process for working with potential students. The process is built on the same idea of personalized service that we know Wesley students covet once they are here.
Q. The current enrollment at Wesley College is 2,100. What would you say is the ideal number of students?
I don’t think there is an “ideal” number. Obviously we have built ourselves on being a small college, and I do not see that changing. But I think there are many opportunities across the campus for growth in both current programs and new programs.
Q. Is there a fine line between increasing the number of students and maintaining what makes Wesley so attractive, such as a low teacher-student ratio?
I think we can grow in programs without overwhelming the students or faculty. We can expand programs while maintaining the faculty-to-student ratio and also introduce new programs that are able to provide a high-quality experience for future students.
Q. What are some of your short-term and long-term strategies for increasing/maintaining enrollment?
This year was the first time in a few years that we have traveled to our feeder high schools, a program set up by Mary-Alice Ozechoski when she was acting as interim dean.
I support her decision and think it is important to stay connected to the high schools in our region. This year we visited 150 schools and received almost 1,000 inquiries during those visits. I hope to continue to expand this travel to new areas and schools that will help increase our name recognition.
Q. What are the biggest challenges in regards to meeting enrollment goals?
One of our biggest challenges is competition with other schools. The average college-bound high school senior applies to seven different institutions. Therefore we are competing in many different areas including size, location, money, programs, athletics, and student experience.
Q. In these difficult times, is Wesley College priced appropriately? Is the school offering more financial aid and/or scholarships to students?
Wesley is actually a great value compared to other private colleges. According to the College Board, the average
tuition and fees for a private college in 2011–2012 totaled $28,500. That is approximately 30 percent more than Wesley. Add to that room and board and we are well below average.
Q. How much of a factor is cost as a motivator to attract and then retain a student? Or are other factors – such as academics, location, and social offerings – more important?
Every potential student is different. Cost is a major factor not only for attracting but also retaining students. However, cost concerns can be balanced when a potential student knows that Wesley is the right place for them.
Q. One of the biggest challenges at small colleges nationwide is retention of students. Is this a major issue at Wesley, and are we addressing those issues?
Retention has been a concern in recent years at Wesley. Last year we received a grant to do a comprehensive retention assessment. We are in the process of implementing new programs and processes aimed directly at increasing retention.
Q. What are the primary reasons students withdraw?
There is no single reason why students withdraw. The retention literature is clear that there is no silver bullet and institutions should look comprehensively at the whole student experience.
Q. Conversely, why do students stay at a college?
Students report they enjoy the relationships with faculty and other students, the personalized attention, and the prospect for future career opportunities through their academic programs.
Q. What are Wesley’s strongest features that appeal to incoming freshman?
Size, location, athletics, and relationship with faculty.
Q. How will the campus additions and improvements, such as the Streetscape project and the renovation of the
Frear building, impact enrollment?
All of these projects will help energize the campus and let students know that we are continuing to improve andprovide them with a progressive learning environment.
Q. What kind of value is a Wesley education?
Value is one of the hallmarks of a Wesley education. Not only the monetary value, but also the value of friendships, relationships, internships, and experiences.
Q. These are some impressive challenges. Are you excited about addressing them?
I am excited about addressing these challenges because I think it has already begun. I can see a future with Wesley fully integrated into a vibrant downtown community. I can see a well-known institution that is seen as a leader in higher education. I can see an environment that welcomes students and provides them with the opportunity to discover their path and grow into exceptional adults.