Smith optimistic about fall enrollment push

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University President Brad Smith says the university is “navigating the headwinds” created by the problems with he federal financial aid form, the FAFSA.

Smith told members of the Marshall University Board of Governors at the board’s meeting this week that it’s been a tough few months for families wondering how much financial aid their student will be eligible to receive.

Smith said recent actions by Gov. Jim Justice, the legislature and state Higher Education Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker to award state financial aid without a completed FAFSA has helped.

“We’ve fought through those headwinds and we are experiencing very encouraging early indicators for Fall 2024 enrollment,” Smith said.

Other actions are also paying off, Smith said.

“We’re expanding our academic signing days to more local high schools and backed up with award-winning digital marketing efforts, all feeding into an enrollment action center where every single prospective student is contacted and we personally follow them through the enrollment process,” Smith said.

On freshman enrollment, Smith said the number of applications received is setting an all-time record but the job isn’t done. He said Marshall has to make sure it minimizes summer melt where those who have applied ultimately decide to do something else.

“We’re going to try to be concierges and guide them to campus so they do show up and once they’re here we want to help them be successful,”

Marshall finances

Marshall Chief Financial Officer Matt Tidd told BOG members the university still has some challenges with the current budget year less than a month from coming to a close.
Marshall had a projected budget deficit of $28 million heading into the fiscal year. Tidd said that’s now down to around $20 million after additional money from the state to cover recent premium increases in state insurance coverage through BRIM and the employer’s side for health insurance through PEIA.

“We still have a lot of work to do as we into (budget year) 25,” Tidd said.

The university also recently heard from Moody’s that he it downgraded Marshall’s credit rating. Moody’s decided to lower the rating from A2 to A3, while upgrading their outlook to stable from negative.

Smith sent a letter to the campus community last week about the change.

“Marshall University is financially one of the strongest public institutions in the state. We have a solid financial foundation, as well as adequate strategic reserves and days-cash-on-hand,” Smith said. “I want to assure you there is no immediate financial impact from the assessment, as this rating change simply means that a higher interest rate could be charged if the university wanted to borrow money. Given that we are not currently planning to borrow and are not in a position that would make it likely for us to need to borrow, it has no immediate consequence.”

Smith noted that Fitch Ratings, which came out in March, said Marshall’s finance picture was stable.

Tidd told the BOG Moody’s is concerned about the university’s ongoing debt, Marshall’s liquidity challenges, the state’s demographic challenges and Marshall’s affordability mission.

“Our reluctance to really raise tuition in line with our peers and that’s something we are okay with right now,” Tidd said.

Day-to-day the finances are better than this time last year, Tidd said.

Operating revenues after nine months of the fiscal year are up $4 million due to an increase in grant and research revenue. Tidd said increased enrollment and housing revenues have also done better this budget year.

Tidd predicts Marshall will have about $35 million cash on hand at the end of the fiscal year, June 30, which will represent about 123 days of expenses.

“I have a good level of comfort of what is coming and going out every single day,” Tidd said.