March 12, 2003 – Increasing revenues tops the list of priorities cited by University of the Virgin Islands President LaVerne Ragster, who took office last August but will be formally inaugurated on Sunday in a ceremony at the Reichhold Center for the Arts on St. Thomas.
Ragster says she wants to bring all the resources to bear that she can to raise UVI's profile among colleges and universities nationwide. She also wants to attract more students from abroad, while at the same time persuading more students here at home that UVI should be their first choice in higher education.
Sunday's installation coincides with the university's annual observance of Charter Day, marking the founding of what was then the College of the Virgin Islands 41 years ago. In those four decades, the institution has had just four presidents — Lawrence C. Wanlass (1962-80), Arthur A. Richards (1980-90), Orville Kean (1990-2002) and, since last year, Ragster.
In an interview this week, Ragster talked about the months she has already spent on the job and some of the goals that have been set for her tenure.
One of the first things she and the UVI Board of Trustees say they want to do is develop a broad and diverse strategy to ensure that the school has enough sustainable revenues to attract and retain the best faculty and staff. The plan as it appears now calls for increasing student enrollment and generating income from the new UVI Research and Technology Park soon to be developed on St. Croix.
"We have a strategic initiative to increase student enrollment and we are targeting certain groups," Ragster said. The strategy is to raise enrollment numbers in both the graduate and undergraduate programs. Administrators already are seeking to recruit within those target groups, using the UVI Web site as an outreach tool.
Attracting off-island students — whose tuition is higher than that for V.I. residents — is a particular challenge, Ragster said, but one that can only help foster the kind of diversity that will ultimately benefit UVI. Traditionally about 10 percent of UVI's student body has come from the Eastern Caribbean, she said, but those numbers lately have been are dropping.
A small number of students from the U.S. mainland come to UVI for a year of study as part of a national student exchange program.
Ragster calls it a challenge to get the students and their parents to commit to higher education in the Virgin Islands but considers it a worthwhile goal.
The administration also wants to generate revenues by charging fees for training services provided to business and government entities, by securing additional grants and contracts, and by increasing developmental giving by private donors.
On this particular front, Ragster says she plans to play a prominent role with help from the trustees. "Basically I'm the champion for the university," she said, "but it's a team."
Currently UVI is operating on a financial base of $40 million a year. Ragster wants to see that increased to $45 million.
The task of promoting the university in the wider world is made easier by the existence of a few outstanding programs that already have won UVI recognition, she said. One example is the aquaculture research program on the St. Croix campus, which Ragster said has received greater recognition outside the territory than within. Another is the Marine Science program on St. Thomas, which attracts students and researchers from abroad.
While UVI is a small institution, Ragster says, it can promote its more successful programs to gain recognition within those particular fields of expertise.
The university's attractions for potential students, she said, include a well-prepared and dedicated faculty, an environment conducive to learning, opportunities for hands-on learning in many curriculum areas, and its acknowledged strengths in research and public service.
Ragster said that one of the areas in which she most wants to see improvement relates to UVI's recruitment goals. University officials want more V.I. high school students to enroll, but they also want to see them show up better prepared to handle college course work.
A Board of Education member who also teaches at UVI told board colleagues at a meeting in October that about 80 percent of V.I. public high school graduates who enroll at UVI have to take remedial English and math courses before moving on to courses for college credit. Ragster does not dispute the statistic, but says the university administration is determined to change it.
"We have a strategic thrust that says we will increase the amount of collaboration we have with the Department of Education," she said. That translates into taking steps to make public school teachers better prepared to produce students with greater math and English proficiency. Increasing the number of certified teachers is a step in the right direction, Ragster said, and it's a goal can be achieved. She said discussions are under way at the Board of Education about how to set up teacher certification training programs through the university.
In addition, she said, a long-term goal is to revise the curriculum requirements high school students must meet in order to graduate.
For the short term, Ragster says, summer programs already are in place to help incoming freshmen improve basic academic skills. University officials are seeking funding to help keep these programs going, she said.
To check out the remaining Inaugural Week/Charter Day activities at UVI, see "UVI events lead up to Ragster inauguration".

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