The new academic year is getting underway at Murray State University. MSU President Dr. Bob Davies speaks with Matt Markgraf on Sounds Good about updates on performance funding, state appropriation, the newly appointed Regents, construction projects and much more.
Students Back, Classes Underway
Dr. Bob Davies said the first week of classes is an exciting time. He says its his third year at Murray State and enjoys seeing how students he met in his first year have grown and has taken a lot of 'selfies' with students.
Davies said the university recently faced "the largest fiscal shift in the history of the university" in terms of the amount of money cut or reallocated due to mandates coming to the university including a reduction in state appropriation, changes in the federal labor laws with new overtime rules and an increase in pension cost.
Davies said it's been a challenge to also make changes in a way that doesn't affect qualitative university values and with a measure of transparency and communication to the university community.
Performance-based funding will soon become a reality in Kentucky higher education. A work group of university leaders and state government education officials is holding series of meetings to determine metrics for performance funding that include enrollment numbers, graduation and retention and the weight of certain degrees.
Murray State University President Dr. Bob Davies made it clear this will affect the university: "I've talked with several faculty and staff and they had asked me, 'you know we've been hearing about performance funding do you think that's really going to happen?' Yeah it is. This next year, July 1, at least five percent of our budget will be based on outcomes," Davies said.
He said while some schools want an emphasis on the quantity of students and graduates (for instance the number of students enrolled and the number of graduates), he anticipates quality will also be a factor (graduation and retention rates - rates being the operative word). He said while he prefers quality metrics, a combination would be the best 'compromise' for Murray State.
Davies said too much focus on quantity and becoming "diploma mills" runs the risk of losing the qualitative aspects of higher education. "The extra talents and skills that our students are honing here... The reason that people with undergraduate degrees have that higher earning power or have the extra commitment to civic engagement and everything else is because of the robust experiences in total that they've had at the university," he said.
The first of three meetings of the Performance Funding Work Group was last month. The group will present their findings by December 1 to the legislative committee to take to the General Assembly to be enacted on.
Davies said it comes back to recruiting students who are 'college ready' and have a strong probability of success at Murray State. He said standards of academic rigor will remain high and that students need to also "own their education" and have a commitment to excel. Retention numbers from the last freshmen class to this most recent year are looking positive, he said. Drops in retention numbers have been corrected, he said, and new academic standards are in place for the incoming freshmen class. He said the incoming class has higher GPAs than in previous years.
Enrollment & Retention
Despite a numerically larger freshmen class, Davies said enrollment will still be lower than in the previous four or five years. This is due to a slight decline in the freshmen class after a spike a few years ago. As a result, graduation rates naturally will be down for the next couple of years. With an increase in this year's class and an increase in retention numbers, he anticipates an upward trajectory.
More on State Appropriation
Davies said the university needs to continue to find ways to be self-supporting. It can't be put on the backs of student tuition dollars, he said, but find other ways to increase philanthropic activities and entrepreneurial resources. He said another capital campaign is getting underway with a focus on student scholarship and enhancing the learning environment with a commitment to experiential, hands-on learning efforts.
Franklin Residential College is complete minus a few final aesthetic touches and a ribbon cutting on September 8. Engineering and physics building is moving along albeit behind schedule with some issues with the roof design. Ribbon cutting for that is expected in the March/April time frame. The Breathitt Veterinary Center is also coming along. Davies said over the next four or five years there won't be a focus on new buildings - instead investing in existing infrastructure and deferred maintenance. Blackburn be remodeled as a result of the new science building nearing completion. Another, perhaps more 'mundane,' effort is updating the electrical infrastructure and will be a priority moving forward.
New Regents & Administrative Searches
Two new Regents were recently appointed to Murray State: Walter Bumphus and Lisa Rudolph. Also Katherine Farmer is the new Faculty Regent and Clint Combs returns as Student Regent. All will swear-in in the first meeting early September.
Davies said Bumphus brings experience as a community college president to the board and Rudolph has experience as a community outreach advocate in economic development in the far western Kentucky communities. He looks forward to working with both.
Other administrative positions have searches underway, namely for Provost and Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. He anticipates finalists for Provost in the October/November time-frame. The latter will be about a month or soon after so that the Provost can participate in the selection.