Referencing a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Augustana University President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin said higher education will face “a dramatic shift” in the next decade to an audience of 30 students at the student forum for the 2030 vision presentation on Oct. 30 in Hamre Hall.
“There will be winners and losers,” Herseth Sandlin said. “The institutions that are at greatest risk are smaller, private institutions in certain parts of the country that aren’t as populated.”
She noted that these are schools with under 1,000 students that have an endowment less than $50 million.
Augustana has 2,100 students and its endowment is almost $82 million, “but we want to make sure to stay on the right side of the line as the shift starts happening in higher education,” Herseth Sandlin said.
Herseth Sandlin primarily focused on five proposals: increasing enrollment, improving the physical campus, revising the academic structure, creating scholarships for underrepresented populations and potentially transitioning to Division I athletics.
First, she emphasized that the items in her presentation are only proposals and that the university will remain rooted in the liberal arts and Lutheran tradition throughout any changes.
She asked the audience to imagine a campus with 3,000 students. She said this may seem large, but asked the audience to consider the size of neighboring universities.
Herseth Sandlin said the administration would have to physically alter the campus with additional dorms and academic buildings before increasing enrollment.
She proposed a new dorm that would connect Bergsaker and Solberg halls called “Solsaker” and multiple apartment-style houses located across the street from Stavig and Granskou halls called “The North Village.”
Senior Carly Donald, who serves as a senior senator in ASA, said she is wary of the increased enrollment and wanted more specific information, especially about dormitories.
“I would be less apprehensive if it had a concrete plan on how they are going to house people,” Donald said.
Sociology professor and director of Civitas Bill Swart, who attended one of the presentations Herseth Sandlin gave to faculty, said the proposed growth concerns him. He said he hopes the university maintains small class sizes and “face-to-face interactions.”
“How do we do that when we have 3,000 undergrads?” Swart said. “If we’re talking about doubling the student body, then we’re also talking about doubling my class sizes.”
Herseth Sandlin said revising the academic structure could relieve pressure on staff and faculty as enrollment increases. She proposed creating new schools and programs, like a college of business or a school of health sciences.
Additionally, Herseth Sandlin proposed overhauling how the university interacts with minority students by generating scholarship with private organizations for students traditionally underrepresented on college campuses, especially Native American students.
After the presentation, Mark Blackburn said that Duke University and Creighton University hold yearly enrollment drives on state reservations.
“We can easily do that,” Blackburn said.
Before doing so, Blackburn said the university will have to expand the Diversity and Inclusion Office. Blackburn said it is more than likely that the 2030 vision will include a goal to increase diversity on campus.
Herseth Sandlin also addressed the elephant in the room: Augustana potentially transitioning to D-I.
She stressed that the transition would be painful, but she believes that the campus would retain the academic performance of its athletes and its culture if it decided to hop divisions.
Senior Samantha Eisenreich plays for the Augustana softball team. She attended the presentation and said afterward that she thinks the benefits of going D-I would outweigh the short-term costs.
“From where we are right now in Division II, I think most people see the transition as taking 20 steps back, but after four years we could be five steps forward from where we are now,” Eisenreich said.
To complete the goals of the next plan, Herseth Sandlin said the university has to find more means of income. She suggested that the university aim to double the endowment and increase enrollment and alumni donations.
Nikki Troxclair, vice president of communications and marketing, said administration will present the board of trustees a complete plan by the end of the academic year. Until then, Troxclair said all proposals of the 2030 vision are tentative.