After several consecutive years of free-falling enrollment, Southern University is making an aggressive push to recruit new students by offering in-state tuition to out-of-state students, reaching out to foreign countries and asking alumni nationwide to sell the school’s attributes to prospective enrollees.

Southern’s enrollment has dipped from nearly 9,500 students to about 6,600 students over the past several years due in part to state-mandated higher admissions phased in seven years ago.

Southern Chancellor James Llorens said dropping enrollment coupled with five straight years of state budget cuts have made a strong recruiting effort vital for the campus’ survival.

“Going from a budget driven by state funding to a budget driven by tuition, also losing enrollment means we have to really put forth that effort,” Llorens said. “We believe the interest is there. We are an attractive option in Louisiana and in the country. We have to capture that.”

The situation is critical enough that Southern recently created a new position specifically to handle recruiting and retention.

Llorens said the university needs to identify potential students and then nurture them through the recruiting, admissions, registration and financial aid processes in order to retain them.

“It is absolutely critical now that we give students the resources they need to matriculate; and in the shortest time possible, because their costs are rising, and the changes in financial aid and in admissions have made it more difficult for students.”

So last year, Llorens installed Al Tezeno as Southern’s associate vice chancellor for student success.

Llorens said it’s dangerous for students to get into college and start “getting too comfortable” in dropping courses and reducing their workload.

“Financial aid only lasts for six years,” he said. “It’s critical that students know that. It ensures they are taking the sufficient amount of credits. They need to identify early what classes they need so they don’t have to be dropping classes and making changes. That’s why we call it student success.”

Tezeno said it’s his job to build partnerships with high school counselors, making sure students have a course load that puts them on track for college. And, once students make it to campus, “we have to make sure they’re being advised properly and not taking courses out of sync,” he said.

Another component, Tezeno said, is having a strong online presence, where students can get a variety of administrative tasks, like registration, done from a home computer.

“Students don’t want to stand in line. They want to go online. We need to push students to the Web,” Tezeno said. “But they won’t believe what we say until they test it. So we have to really be on top of our customer service.”

Tezeno said Southern’s 78 percent retention rate from the first year to the second year could easily be in the 80s in the near future, if students feel they are cared for adequately.

“Our performance today is better than yesterday, but it’s not as good as it will be tomorrow,” Tezeno said.

On the recruiting side, Southern has entered into partnerships with universities in Brazil and Turkey and will begin offering English as a second language, or ESL, courses this summer in an effort to attract international students.

Llorens said the ESL courses could also attract local families who have recently immigrated to the U.S.

In another move, Southern is now extending in-state tuition to some students from Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas provided those students score at least a 20 on their standardized ACT test, and then maintain a 2.75 grade-point average once they’ve received the waiver.

But Llorens said a significant part of the recruiting effort will fall on alumni in other cities including Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Washington, D.C., who host “Special College Night” recruiting events.

“We don’t have the resources to have full-time people everywhere, but we do our best to make use of our alumni.

In Baton Rouge, Southern will hold “College Night Out On the Bluff” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Feb. 26 at the F.G. Clark Activity Center on campus.

Southern spokesman Ed Pratt said prospective students can talk to professors, and learn about financial aid and housing at the event. High school seniors who meet certain academic requirements could be offered scholarships on the spot, he said.