LEWISTON — Joyce Gibson uses words most educators don’t: retention, branding and marketing.

The college needs to do more to build enrollment, said the new dean of the University of Southern Maine‘s Lewiston-Auburn College. “We can’t survive without that.”

Gibson began her new job on July 1. Still unpacking Wednesday, she said numbers illustrate the need to increase enrollment.

The number of students at USM-LAC in the fall was 1,126, down 221 from 2005.

The tough economy, combined with more high school graduates attending community colleges where the tuition is lower, has taken a hit on state college and university campuses.And, 27 percent of the college’s first-year students don’t return for their second year.

One of Gibson’s goals is to ensure students get the help they need so they can stay and graduate.

She plans to implement practices used at her last job as a senior administrator at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. There, retention policies, such as how to respond when a student transferred, were adopted to keep students in college. And when students dropped out, there were “check-ups” to bring them back in, Gibson said.

Some complained that those practices amounted to coddling students, but coddling is what good businesses do for customers, Gibson said. “You keep up with your people. It makes good marketing sense.”

The college needs to find out what kinds of obstacles keep students from staying and try to remove those barriers. That could range from more scholarships to turning a faculty’s experimental day care into a program, Gibson said.

“If we can retain the students that we get, we don’t have to worry as much about aggressive recruiting; we just keep each person who comes through the door,” she said.

She hopes to boost the college’s visibility with more marketing, maybe holding community receptions at the close of student art exhibits. Or personally visiting middle and high schools to tell students and parents what the college can do for them. She wants to bring more members of the community to the campus.

She recently moved to Auburn with her husband. When she looked at brochures about the area, she didn’t see USM-LAC. That needs to change, she said.

Gibson attended the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce “after hours” gathering, at which some businesses gave away promotional gifts. “There was nothing from us,” she said.

Just as a business needs clients, a college needs students. “We need people to understand what we do here,” she said. “You can’t do it hiding under a bush somewhere expecting people to come to us.”

A grandmother of three, Gibson, 62, is from Mississippi. Her father grew up on a cotton farm and became a dentist. He got his education with help from a brother who agreed to take over Gibson’s father’s farm work so he could go to school.

Her parents made education a big deal. “It was, ‘You are going to college,'” Gibson said. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, a master’s degree from George Washington University and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida.
She was offered the job of dean at USM-LAC in February, taking over for Interim Dean Marv Druker, and began visiting the college in March. She was attracted to it in part for its warm, tight-knit community where people don’t throw out titles.
“I like people just to be people,” Gibson said. “That’s exactly the kind of feeling I got here.”


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Joyce Gibson is the new dean of the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College.


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