Q+A — Dr. Howard Ballentine, Dean of Enrollment Management

Apr 27th, 2012 | By admin | Category: Features

By Bill Cook

Dr. Howard Ballentine

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.

Dr. Bal­len­tine

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.

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