Vincennes University students head back to the classroom next week, and as the numbers roll in it seems university officials were right on track with earlier enrollment projections.
Kristi Deetz, VU's director of external relations, told members of the university's Board of Trustees Monday that, for the most part, enrollment is on par with last year. With just one week to go — fall semester registration ends on Friday — VU has accepted 4,830 students, a 5-percent increase over last year.
As is becoming more prevalent in higher education, VU is seeing more students taking online classes — a sort of virtual enrollment — or high school students enrolling in dual-credit programs, allowing students to earn college credit without actually stepping foot on a VU campus.
There is, however, one Start VU day left, to be held on Thursday, Deetz said, and right now 37 students are signed up to attend.
That's compared to just 10 students the same day last year, she said.
And despite enrollment being slightly down, VU is actually expanding its footprint.
Illinois recruitment is still going strong; VU will have 148 new Illinois students compared to 136 at this same point last year.
Overall, VU has enrolled 280 Illinois residents compared to 238 last year.
Deetz also said she is embarking upon a total overhaul of the university's website. Small changes, she said, have already been made as the first phase will roll out in September.
The full redesign, she said, will be done in May 2018.
“This is not a website that is just about how to enroll in college and all the facts and figures,” Deetz said. “It will be focused on the goals of our students, guiding students with the widest range of experiences and expectations through the college process.
“And we'll be telling the VU story in the most compelling way by using the voices and the words of the people that we focus on — students, families, employees, alumni, trustees, partners and our friends,” Deetz said. “They're going to tell their 'VU Story' in the most authentic, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, sometimes inspiring way.”
The board also heard from Mike Sievers, chairman of its finance committee, and Phil Rath, the university's vice-president of finance and government relations.
The finance committee in July voted to spend $5.8 million to upgrade its fleet of airplanes at the Aviation Technology Center in Indianapolis.
After the current fleet is sold, VU expects to have a net expenditure of about $5 million.
And the planes, Rath said, have already been ordered.
“It's going strong, going great,” he said of the program. “We've gotten a lot of play on this, across the United States actually.
“And we're happy to report that the contracts have been signed, and the planes are in production.”
George Ridgeway, a VU trustee and a pilot himself, commented on the types of planes purchased by VU, calling them some of the safest on the market. They're also “a good fit” for VU's program, he told the board.
The committee approved the purchase of eight Cirrus SR 20 aircraft, which will be used the most in training VU aviation students, as well as one Piper Arrow and two Piper Seminoles.
And, according to Mike Gehrich, chairman of the university's aviation program, they hold their value very well, too.
In eight years, the university should get back as much as 70 percent of their original cost, or just over $4 million, when they are sold, money that would then be re-invested in another new fleet.
It will take about a year to get the new fleet delivered, but any advances in aviation technology made between now and then will be added before they are rolled off the line.
Currently, the program boasts about 60 student pilots and another 150 students in its aviation technology program.
But the two additional aircraft will allow the program, operated out of the Indianapolis International Airport, to add two more cohorts of aviation students per year, one in the fall and another in the spring.
The program is expected to be profitable for the university — generating as much as $1.2 million each of the next four years — and that's without factoring in the expected new enrollees.
Students enrolled in the aviation program, which moved to Indianapolis about 14 years ago, pay just over $58,000 for 250 hours of air time.
Comparatively speaking, students at Purdue University pay just over $42,500 but get far fewer hours in the cockpit.
In other business, the board renewed President Chuck Johnson's contract for another year, and they accepted the retirement of provost Laurel Smith.
Smith said she plans to finish out this school year, giving the board plenty of time to conduct a thorough search for her replacement.
Previously working as English faculty, Smith has been at VU for 33 years.
And Updike Hall, the university's new center for science, engineering and math, will also host it's grand opening on Wednesday with a dedication ceremony to be held at 11:30 a.m. Tours will be given afterward.
Johnson called the building “a game-changing asset” for the university.