Monday, December 04, 2006

**Naples News story confirms AMU "crisis"**

Confirming what was reported here first by Whose AMSOL? nearly a month ago, the Naples News reports today on the bleak state of affairs of AMU in Florida, with Provost Fr. Fessio admitting that a "crisis" is now facing the school.

Note also the high AMU attrition rate referred to near the end of the article.

Folks, students and faculty are running away from the AMU project.

This story must be relayed to all AMSOL Board members.

If any Board members, after performing his or her mandatory due diligence and becoming properly informed of the issues (including stories like this as well as the recent faculty resolution against moving to Florida) would be committing a grave breach of their fiduciary duties in voting to move to Florida now.

AMSOL Board members - you are on notice.

School's slow growth prompts funding plea
By Jennifer Brannock
Monday, December 4, 2006
Costly tuition prices, lofty academic and maturity requirements and an inching accreditation process could stall the growth of Collier County's most ambitious project.
In a recent letter to Ave Maria University supporters, Provost Joseph Fessio wrote that enrollment and retention numbers at the stringent, private Catholic college are low.
The problems are contributing to "a probable added deficit," which he referred to as a "crisis."
"It isn't that we did not plan for it," Fessio wrote in a letter, dated Oct. 18. "But as a situation unfolds, the problem (or sometimes even a crisis) becomes crystal clear."
AMU needs more students. The ideal growth of the school and 5,000-acre town, to be located between Immokalee and Naples in eastern Collier County, depends on it.
After disclosing a laundry list of problems the school has with recruitment and retention, Fessio made a serious plea to potential donors to fund merit and need-based scholarships so more students could have the opportunity to attend.
"To that end, I'm starting a task force of Regents to raise money precisely for scholarships that will help us increase our enrollment and retention," Fessio wrote.
"Without such a scholarship fund, we are going to incur deficits over the next few years which will be unsustainable."
Despite the ominous statement, Fessio insisted the school and town are far from doomed.
"It's not false," Fessio said of the written statement Wednesday. "Nothing will happen" if AMU doesn't admit more students.
"But we'll be smaller than we should be."
Slow growth at Ave Maria isn't an issue for Collier County planners or developers.
Representatives at Pulte Homes, who have three housing complexes planned for Ave Maria, said they have loads of interested people who say they want to live in the primarily Catholic community. The growth of the school will not be a factor, representatives said.
Because Ave Maria will be responsible for its own water, sewers and roads, the pace of the town's growth won't affect other county projects, said Joe Schmitt, the county's Community Development and Environmental Services Administrator.
"That is a self-contained, self-sufficient entity," he said. "We still expect 500,000 to 600,000 people living in eastern Collier County at build-out, so I don't think they'll have any problems."
AMU has enrolled about 600 students since 2003 at its temporary campus, in The Vineyards in North Naples. Of those, more than 100, about 17 percent, have left the school prior to graduation, Fessio said.
According to statistics compiled by the College Board, about 49.5 percent of freshmen at four-year private universities do not graduate from the institution they started at.
The reasons for leaving AMU, or for not coming at all, are plentiful, Fessio said.
"The number of academically qualified students mature enough in their faith to respond to what we have to offer here is relatively small," Fessio wrote. "When you add this to the fact that we are presently still a rather small and unaccredited institution a long way from most population centers in the U.S., with a limited number of majors, it's clear to me that our growth will necessarily be slow over the next few years."
Fessio said the top reasons for the departure of students are academic and disciplinary dismissal.
The average SAT scores for incoming freshman are between 1200 and 1218, Fessio said. Students must also maintain a 2.0 grade point average or higher to stay in school.
AMU has strict behavioral policies to which some students fresh out of their childhood homes have difficulty complying. Some more troublesome rules include boundaries on male/female interaction and the requirement that students must live on-campus throughout their college years.
But don't expect those rules to change, Fessio said.
"We have pretty high expectations of students when it comes to behavior with relationships, drinking and so on," he said. "We've experienced that some students come here, and it's not as lively as they had hoped, and they leave.
"It takes maturity, and we're not going to diminish our standards for decency and character."
Though the school has received pre-accreditation, they are still 3-4 years away from receiving national accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Fessio said.
The school offers only 12 undergraduate majors, which has prompted many students to leave the school and finish elsewhere, Fessio said. The school cannot offer any new majors until they receive their SACS accreditation.
"We haven't had any difficulty getting students work after graduation," Fessio said. "Nevertheless, it is a deterrent for students coming here."
The main factor Fessio is working on is the bottom line. Fessio said many Catholic families are large, with several children to support, and cannot afford to spend the $22,575 per year AMU charges for room, board and tuition.
Fessio hopes his Regents task force will form by the end of the year, and will be successful in raising money for prospective students.
"The fact is, if we're going to help the students who need the most help to come here...we have to support them in some way," Fessio said. "I believe if I can communicate to our friends in this area what our students are like, how terrific they are and what we need to get them here, people are generous and will respond."
AMU students like Maria Victoria Puerto Hernandez of Honduras and Andrea Rodriguez of Immokalee have already reaped the benefits of full merit and need-based scholarships.
"I wanted to come here when I saw what Ave Maria offered," said Rodriguez, 20. "I couldn't have come without the scholarship."
"I needed to know how to approach the teachings of the church, and I knew Ave Maria was teaching the truth," added Puerto Hernandez, 19, who wants to work as a missionary. "Coming here gave me the opportunity to be more exposed in terms of culture."
Fast or slow, Fessio said he is confident the university will achieve their build-out goal of teaching 6,000 mature, academically excellent students one day.
"There are students like this all around the country," he said. "It just takes time for them to get to know us, and for us to know them, because we're still new here."


At 11:54 PM, Blogger Karl said...

I think we, as alumni and students, should try to help. I think we all support the idea of Ave Maria University, but we are reticent to support AMSOL from joining in on all the "fun." We should conditionally agree to fund a scholarship for AMU students (call it the Ave Maria School of Law Scholarship, or something like that), provided the law school stays in Ann Arbor. Let's start to give them incentives NOT to move the school. I'm in for $100 toward a scholarship (more once I graduate and actually have income).
It only takes 23 (22 more) of us to commit likewise to fund a single full tuition scholarship. More, and we can support multiple students. Any thoughts on this?


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