Mercyhurst faced a decline in enrollment this year, which led to the termination of 14 staff positions in November as the university attempted to trim $2.5 million from its budget to make up for its financial trouble.
On March 1, 2015, Hoa Nguyen came to campus as the new executive vice president for finance and administration at Mercyhurst. Nguyen plans to use his experience to bring financial stability to the university and work closely with other departments to tackle future challenges Mercyhurst will face.
“My objective is to improve our financial situation and work with the CIO (Chief Information Officer) to improve technological infrastructure, so that we are going to be able to support our students with a transformative learning process,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen was born in Vietnam, but has lived most of his life in the United States. He has lived in different states, including Louisiana and Indiana, and in Michigan for 32 years. Before coming to Mercyhurst, Nguyen was Vice President for Business Affairs and Treasurer at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana. He is currently working on his Ph.D. dissertation at Colorado State University.
Nguyen came to Mercyhurst because he saw the job opening and said he was attracted to the Mercyhurst mission and tradition. He also felt drawn by the challenges that the university itself would pose for him.
“I really like the campus, but most importantly, when I interviewed for the job, I knew about the challenges that we face. Pretty much all, if not all of our challenges are the universal challenges that we face in the education industry,” Nguyen said.
One of the issues Nguyen hopes to solve is the declining enrollment, which dropped five percent from 2013 to 2014. Nguyen said if school officials turn their focus away from traditional types of enrollment, the university will find more students are able to come to the university. In the future, there will be an increase in the population of immigrant refugees and in the adult student population. To Nguyen, it is how we respond to those increases that will determine the success of the university.
“So how are we going to react to those? How are we going to be more strategic about recruiting those students in those markets,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen also understands that affordability will also be very important in tackling these issues.
“We know that we cannot increase tuition every year,” said Nguyen “That’s not good, but how we are going to balance the affordability versus the reality that is. We have to generate enough income to run the school.”
One of the ways Nguyen hopes to reach financial stability is by using different pricing strategies. He believes that the university should do different analysis in determining the responsiveness to the prices of the institutions, also known as an elasticity analysis.
“We really need to understand our competition. We need to perform a competition study and we need to perform price sensitive analysis,” Nguyen said.
One of Nguyen’s strategies involves maintaining a tuition rate for four years in an effort to retain students, but questions as to the efficiency of this plan continue to be raised, according to Nguyen.
“If, in my model, we offer guaranteed tuition rate, meaning that we are not going to increase our tuition rate for the next four years for every cohort, what is that going to get us? Is it going to increase enrollment? Are we going to increase retention rate? Are we going to motivate the kids to try to graduate within four years, because if they stay for another year the rates are going to be higher?”
Before Nguyen can implement any of his new plans, he will wait until the new Mercyhurst president takes office. For now, his job will entail overseeing the budget and the finances of the university. He hopes to work with the new president to develop strategies to address the university’s issues with declining enrollment, but also move the institution forward to reach financial stability.
“I assist the board with … projects. It will be up to the new president to see what my role is going to be,” Nguyen said.
In his free time, Nguyen enjoys traveling, but given his job at Mercyhurst, he has had little time for any other activities. Whenever he has free time, he visits his family in Indiana or spends time learning how to cook.
“I live on campus and have to cook by myself. I’ve never cooked before, so I am still learning,” Nguyen said.