Cincy State may privatize recruiting, marketing

Posted at 6:15 PM, Sep 29, 2015

CINCINNATI – Cincinnati State is poised to turn over the bulk of its marketing and student retention efforts to a private contractor in the hope of reversing a steep decline in enrollment and revenue.

Pearson, the multinational testing and education consulting company, is in negotiations with the college on a 10-year contract that would put it in charge of the technical and community college's $550,000 marketing and recruitment budget.

Cincinnati State typically attracts about 4,000 new students a year. Pearson would get to keep 20 percent of tuition generated by more than 4,000 students. If 4,500 students enroll, for example, Pearson would keep 20 percent of tuition generated by 500 students.

Enrollment is down 10 percent compared to a year ago, at 9,664.

"We are under tremendous enrollment pressure as you know," Interim President Monica Posey told the board of trustees. "They said there is great potential in this market, and we're looking at a potential contract."

The change comes as Cincinnati State battles the enrollment dip coupled with a state-mandated tuition freeze. It's looking to end the downturn despite the abrupt departure of Dr. O'dell Owens as president after a five-year tenure.

Posey, who was provost, is confident that the relationship with Pearson can enhance the college's recruiting efforts and spark innovative ways to grab a larger percentage of prospective students.

Cincinnati State would be the first community college in the nation to enter into such a partnership with Pearson, which has previously focused on K-12 standardized testing and consulting with four-year colleges.

Faculty Senate President Ryan Shadle said after the meeting that the faculty have some concerns about the reputation of Pearson, which is one of the main providers of state standardized tests that have proved unpopular with many parents and teachers.

"One of the things we're worried about is their track record," he said. But he added that Pearson representatives have been "amiable" in negotiations and responsive to Cincinnati State's desire to place Pearson representatives in Cincinnati rather than running the operation remotely from offices in Florida.

Shadle said the reaction to Owens' departure has been largely neutral among faculty members, but the appointment of Posey as interim president has been extremely popular.

He said budget cuts have taken a toll on the college's efforts to boost retention rates. Slightly more than half of students don't return for a second year, some to take jobs in a growing economy.

"We lose co-op students to jobs offering $30,000," Shadle said.

But the reduction in counselors, advisors and teachers also hinders retention. "Any time you tighten a belt you cut a retention tool," he said.

Posey said that the college can avoid additional budget cuts this academic year if its aggressive recruitment efforts for the spring semester pay off. The college has begun recruiting earlier than usual with phone calls and advertising, she said.