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Maureen Powers

Maureen Powers

Maureen Powers said she met and exceeded the freshman enrollment target at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom even after the cost of tuition tripled.

Powers, one of four finalists for the University of Montana vice president for enrollment and communications, said she exceeded the goal of 4,500 students by 147 one year, and surpassed the target again the next year. According to her resume, Powers worked at Plymouth as dean of students from November 2012 to June 2015.

She subsequently has worked as an executive consultant. Powers has not held a permanent position on a campus since then, but a couple of community colleges have named her as finalist for president.

Search committee chair Matt Riley said Powers' ability to meet enrollment goals in a challenging recruitment environment made her a finalist for the job at UM. Specifically, a mandated tuition hike — from $4,500 to $13,500 a year, Powers said — made it harder for the average family to afford college.

"We talked … in terms of how she met the targets in a tough set of circumstances — through grassroots efforts working directly with schools and communities, not letting any potential students fall through the cracks," Riley said in an email.

UM also has experienced difficulties with recruitment, losing nearly 30 percent of its student body since 2010 and faltering in retention. In a public forum Tuesday, Powers described how she would address freshman retention with roughly 30 percent of students lost from their first to second year.

"It's really imperative that you understand your student, and for me, that involves data," said Powers, whose resume notes she holds a doctorate from Indiana University.

Only in response to questions did Powers share specific data about how she has improved retention and enrollment. She said if memory served, she increased freshman retention 11 percent in less than two years at one university, addressing substantial absenteeism among staff and dangerous personnel problems in residence halls.

After the presentation, Powers declined to state when and where she raised retention, citing her discussion of personnel. Her resume notes she served from 1995 to 1999 as vice president of student affairs at Saint Leo University in Florida, where she increased retention 11 percent.

***

In her talk, Powers stressed the importance of understanding the student experience and using data analysis as a retention tool. She showed a clip from the film "Moneyball," where the Oakland A's scout players based on statistics instead of perceived potential — and the team performs well despite their relatively small budget.

She said the same is possible at UM, where recruiters can evaluate data for patterns that shed light on freshman retention. One faculty member asked how Powers would proceed if such data were unavailable, and she said "common sense" tells her the numbers exist.

However, she said if the figures aren't available, she would still apply the approach she suggested in her presentation of understanding the incoming class in order to help develop loyalty. She said students can feel whether advisers and faculty are committed to them, and she would foster those institutional bonds, such as with proactive advising and meaningful orientation.

Powers also said UM must sell itself to students and demonstrate a return on investment, and she said campus in a "marvelous" location and "exceptional academic reputation" can move forward strategically.

"(UM) has all of the elements necessarily to be wildly successful, and so I would like to be part of that journey," said Powers, who noted that like author John Steinbeck, she is "in love with Montana."

***

Since her tenure at Plymouth, Powers has worked as a consultant on four projects, according to her resume. She notes she was selected to work on a federal grant at Indiana University, where she has presented workshops and webinars for faculty from January 2016 to the present.

In a project running from September 2015 to the present, she is a consultant for LEAD, Linking Efforts Against Drugs, to provide program support and presentations on drug and alcohol abuse related to youth. The work includes "diversity and inclusion programming for community leaders."

Powers also completed a couple of projects with transit agencies in Southern California. One included reporting on commuting safety with college students and customer satisfaction. Another involved designing focus groups on sexual harassment and assault and related safety issues along with a review of transit marketing campaigns.

In March 2017, Jefferson Community College in New York announced her as a finalist, and in November 2016, Mount Wachusett Community College identified her as a president candidate. Both have enrollments of roughly 4,000 students. The University of Montana has 9,407 students on the mountain campus.

After her presentation, Powers explained the specific draw to an enrollment position. She said her dissertation was on educational attainment, and education is about creating opportunity.

"I'm someone whose life was utterly transformed by having the opportunity to get an education, and it's part of my approach to giving back," said Powers, who described herself as a first-generation college graduate; her resume notes she has a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University.

***

After the candidate's tenure at Plymouth University with 33,000 students, the next mention of enrollment in her resume is with a position she held from March 2008 to June 2009.

Powers served as vice president and dean of SIT Study Abroad, School for International Training, in Brattleboro, Vermont, and her resume notes she increased online applications from 51 percent to 85 percent of total applications in four months, "increasing efficiency and lowering cost."

The resume does not note whether enrollment increased, but it states she "generated surplus funds from enrollment revenue levels." UM has faced budget problems as a result of its enrollment decline.

The search committee aims to have a new vice president in Missoula by early August.

***

Three other candidates are scheduled for interviews, with all public forums held from 4 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. in the UC Theater:

  • Catherine Cole, assistant vice president for enrollment services and director of integrated marketing and strategic communications at University of North Florida, on Thursday and Friday, May 31 and June 1, with a public forum Thursday.
  • Jim Hundrieser, associate managing principal of institutional strategies for the Association of Governing Boards, on Monday and Tuesday, June 4 and 5, with a public forum Monday.
  • William Plate, vice president of university communication and chief marketing officer at Coastal Carolina University, on June 6 and 7, with a public forum Wednesday, June 6.
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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.