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Bradley University 'doing OK' on enrollment and finances. President sees reasons for future optimism

Bradley University President Stephen Standifird delivers his second annual State of the University address at the Dingeldine Music Center on Oct. 3, 2022.
Tim Shelley
Bradley University President Stephen Standifird delivers his second annual State of the University address at the Dingeldine Music Center on Oct. 3, 2022.

Bradley University is "doing OK" on finances and enrollment this year, but the university's president believes the institution is on the right path for a stronger tomorrow.

That was the main takeaway from BU President Stephen Standifird's second annual State of the University address on Monday.

Bradley University ended the 2021-22 academic year with a positive operating income of $5.8 million, partially due to pandemic higher education relief dollars and changes in post-retirement funds.

The university's board of trustees rejected a balanced budget for the 2022-23 academic year in favor of one with a $3 million deficit, Standifird said. He said the deficit budget allows the university to make needed investments now, rather than later.

"If your cash position is strong, and ours is - a deficit is sustainable in the short term and make sense, if and only if you're making investments that improve your financial footing moving forward," he said. "Those investments are key."

One of those investments is a 2% across the board raise for all Bradley University employees, effective Jan. 1, 2023.

Bradley University's first-year student enrollments fell half a percentage point this year to 1037 incoming undergraduates for the fall of 2022. Standifird said that's a bit better than the national 1.5% decline seen at private colleges nationwide.

"It remains a very challenging time in higher education. After a century of unfettered growth, we are facing a level of decreased demand previously unseen in higher education," said Standifird. "We've all heard about the demographic cliff on the horizon. And as it turns out, it came a little earlier than expected because of the pandemic."

Total enrollment sits at 5,552 students, with much of the growth in the graduate programs coming from big increases in international students attending Bradley.

The president is challenging Bradley University to achieve a 90% six-year undergraduate graduation rate. That statistic currently stands at 77.1%, slightly better than the average 75.5% among peer institutions.

"But even at this rate, that means nearly 23% of our students do not graduate in six years. That means we are failing a significant percentage of our students. This is an area where we have to do better," he said.

The university will also beef up efforts to actively recruit students after they've already applied and been accepted to attend Bradley University.

Standifird highlighted the university's progress on implementing its eleven-point strategic plan over the past year. That includes building out diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts under the leadership of Dr. Warren Anderson, who was hired in January.

Standifird said work is ongoing to establish a new Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, and to complete deferred maintenance on buildings around campus. The university is also looking at a new model for advising students.

The university is searching for a new vice president of advancement and a new associate vice president of marketing and communications who will be charged with implementing parts of the strategic plan.

"I remain optimistic about our future despite the highly competitive environment in which we operate," Standifird said. "I'm optimistic because I can feel the progress. And I know, I absolutely know, the impact it's going to have on us long-term."

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.