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Eastern Paves Road To Recovery Officials Hope New Degrees, Lower Costs Will Boost Enrollment, Release State Money

Mon., Oct. 13, 1997

As a trained bookkeeper, Kathy Morefield is well qualified to show 2-year-old Kora Lee Orton how to count a handful of pinto beans.

But as an intern at the Spokane Guild School, the Eastern Washington University student is training for another career as a teacher by pursuing a graduate degree in special education.

“I’ve always loved working with kids,” said Morefield, as she helped Kora Lee drop the beans into a blue bucket. “The degree will get me more job opportunities; everyone is looking for that degree.”

As one of the first to enroll in the new graduate program at Eastern, Morefield is part of a transformation moving swiftly through the Cheney-based university.

Targeting areas of demand for students and the job market suddenly has become paramount at Eastern, which is toiling to show state regulators how it will bring back 1,000 students it has lost in the past four years.

Gone is publicity about tougher liberal arts requirements, which had repelled some students. Back is an emphasis on getting through school quickly and landing a job when you graduate.

Morefield’s program, for instance, takes one year to complete. With minimal advertising, 40 students signed up this fall and 22 were accepted.

“We’ve got to remain competitive or we’ll lose students,” said Nancy Marchand-Martella, associate professor in the department of applied psychology and co-director of the special education program. “We haven’t had any problems in getting people interested in this field.”

In a new plan released last week, Eastern said it will spend more than $1.35 million to beef up its gaunt student recruitment office, advertise Eastern’s offerings and develop new academic programs to woo as many students as possible in the next three years.

Admission will be easier and dorm costs lower. Transfer students won’t lose as many credit hours as they used to and student life should improve, officials said.

“We’re out there soliciting, letting people know what we’ve got,” said provost Niel Zimmerman. “You want to make the university as available as it can be, as competitive as it can be.”

Changes are happening fast as Eastern’s administrators back off from failed policies and respond with a concrete strategy for recovery.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board, a regulatory panel that carries out policies set by state lawmakers, will consider Eastern’s proposal later this month.

Up for grabs is approximately $1.35 million in state funds that the Legislature withheld from the troubled university. The board has authority to release the money to Eastern once it’s satisfied that the school has a good plan for boosting enrollment.

“(Eastern’s plan) is looking good,” said Dan Keller, associate director of the HEC Board. “It’s a pretty decent looking package.”

Some highlights of the 47-page plan include:

Hiring six additional academic advisers and career counselors. The staff will conduct mandatory meetings with all freshmen and undeclared transfer students to help cut Eastern’s 13.5 percent drop-out rate. The effort would cost $227,000.

Pouring $517,000 into marketing the university and recruiting new freshmen and community college transfers. Customized transfer guides will show community college students how to avoid losing credit hours at Eastern, while recruiters step up visits to high schools and the work place to net more freshmen and professionals.

Targeting a growing number of community college Associates of Applied Science graduates by offering fast-track bachelor of science degrees in technology, dental hygiene and business. The program, which requires HEC Board approval, would cost $49,000 to start this year, rising to $170,000 by 2000.

Adding and expanding graduate degrees for occupational therapy, social work and special education. A Master’s in Teaching degree and bilingual teaching programs aimed at students who live far from Eastern also would be offered. Total cost: $560,000 to start; double by 2000.

Said Zimmerman: “We’re trying to be consumer friendly.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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