Speech to University Assembly
Joel E. Anderson, Chancellor
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
August 14, 2014
*Click the images on the right to enlarge
After the speeches by the University Assembly President and the Provost, I could rise, simply say “Amen,” and sit down. But I know if I did that it would severely disappoint everyone. So let me proceed.
I want to add my welcome to the newcomers. We have new faculty and staff, and new senior-level and mid-level leaders in a number of places. It is good to have you here.
Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of a difficulty lies opportunity.” Let me address the bad news first. You will see that opportunity lies ahead for us.
You will note that the first chart1 indicated we are down 8% as of today’s registrations, and it appears that this figure will end up eventually at 8-10%. The message is the same across all of three of these charts2,3—the enrollment trend lines are down again this fall, with two exceptions.
In this chart4, which shows the one-year and five-year enrollment changes among all groups of colleges and universities in Arkansas—public universities, public two-year colleges, private colleges—what immediately strikes the eye is the prevalence of the color red— many red numbers indicating enrollment declines at many campuses last fall (2013) from the previous fall (2012). For that year, the statewide bottom-line figure was red, showing a 2.2% enrollment decrease.
I said a moment ago that there were two exceptions. The first is concurrent enrollment of high school students. That line has not been declining, and the previous chart showed that number level from last year simply because we are a week or two away from having those numbers in the data system. We expect it to be level or possibly up a bit; we will know soon.
The second exception is first-time/full-time entering freshmen which on this chart5 show a counter trend with a 47 student increase. I choose to regard this lone figure as the chirp of the first bird of springtime. I know that Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Dean Kahler and his colleagues have worked extremely hard to accomplish this turn-around. While their recruitment strategies take them all over the state and beyond, I commend them specifically for the strengthened relationships they
have worked to establish with principals, counselors, and other personnel in area high schools.
Although UALR has and always will serve large numbers of nontraditional, part-time, and transfer students, the first-time/full-time freshmen cohort is an important building block. These students are easier to retain and are good prospects to stay with us four years. They also bolster the traditional elements of campus life and atmosphere that even nontraditional students expect and like to see.
WHY HAS UALR’S ENROLLMENT DECLINED?
Why is the enrollment decline occurring at UALR? That is the inevitable question.
The national context is probably relevant although one could say that mentioning it begs the question.
From 2006-2011, there was rapid growth in college enrollment across the nation—an average of 533,000 per year, or more than 3 million total. But in 2012 a downturn began. The Census Bureau in a news release September 3, 2013 reported that enrollment college enrollment nationwide had fallen by 467,000 in 2012 as compared with 2011. What made this development much more consequential for some institutions than others—specifically those institutions such as UALR that enroll significant percentages of nontraditional students—is that 419,000 (89.7%) of the decline was in the number of students who were 25 and older! Hopefully the Census Bureau will release a similar update next month that gives the decline in 2013 from the 2012 numbe
I am aware of a number of other campuses that also have to grapple with enrollment declines, including our neighbor, the University of Memphis; and two old Sun Belt Conference rivals–Middle Tennessee State University and Western Kentucky University. In our own backyard, Pulaski Technical College had a substantial drop in enrollment last year and is anticipating another one this fall.
There is something to the old adage that misery loves company. We do have company, in that other institutions have also experienced enrollment losses. However, that does not make our circumstance of less concern. If you feel bad because you have a virus at a time when many other people do, too, their company may keep you from thinking that you are odd, but it will not really help you feel get well any faster.
I have not seen any confident explanation of the downturn in enrollment from a knowledgeable authority, but I think the nationwide numbers and the enrollment declines at numerous other institutions suggest clearly that there are some very broad forces and influences at play, even if no one can speak with certainty about them.
The two most-often mentioned explanations, however, are that the economy has been slowly impro
ving and students are taking jobs or working longer hours and not going to school even part-time; and that changes in Federal financial aid policy has caused people to quit college due to the loss in financial assistance. There is a third factor. The great alarm being voiced in a number of quarters about student loan debt has no doubt convinced some persons who were already hesitant about college that it would be wise to forget it.
We can accept that there are broader forces at work that produce a decline in enrollment at many institutions, including our own. We cannot change those influences on enrollment, but we can mitigate their impact on our institution through changes in our own policies and practice. Our practical challenge, then, is to do better what we can control at our own institution. There is no doubt that we can help ourselves by retaining higher percentages of the students who do enroll with us. I am aware that all across campus people are giving increased attention to that challenge. In her remarks, the Provost made it clear that she is addressing it.
It is worth reminding ourselves that this year’s numbers, down essentially across the board, mean there will be a downward effect in subsequent years simply because attrition will occur but from a smaller starting base.
A time of significant enrollment decline should be a moment of clarity.
Enrollment is the key to funding. The more students you have, the more tuition and fee income you have. Enrollment is also the primary driver of the state appropriation. Again, more students mean more state dollars. Fewer students mean fewer state dollars.
These two primary sources will fund 85% of our budget this year. Fortunately, the state appropriation is set for this fiscal year, so it will not diminish. Lower enrollment this year, however, will produce lower tuition and fee income immediately; and lower enrollment this year will produce lower state appropriations in future years.
The next six charts on the financial impact of retention were developed by the Budget Director, Dr. Sandra Robertson, and they truly “need no explanation.” The first chart6 shows the stu
dent semester credit hour definition of undergraduate and graduate students, then tuition and fee rates by course level, then subsequent charts show the income produced by one full-time student at different undergraduate levels.
One full-time undergraduate is worth $6,180 a year7; a graduate student (non-doctoral) is worth $26,7608; and one doctoral student is worth $51,6569. The last two charts show the revenue impact of a one-percent increase or decrease in total undergraduate enrollment last year ($730,083)10; and of a one-percent increase in total graduate enrollment last year ($468,758)11. In the near future we will again start the process of budget reductions. It was not easy last year.
It will be harder this year. As always, we will be mindful of our long-term goals as they have been developed in strategic planning, which means some things are higher priorities than others. We make relatively few decisions with only a one-year horizon. That will not change.
It will be another three weeks before the dust settles on the final fall enrollment. As we make adjustments to the shortfall in revenue from tuition and fees, we will maintain a comprehensive, balanced university. In tougher than usual times, we will continue to move toward the goal of becoming one of the top metropolitan, community engaged, research universities among the SREB states.
Now let’s turn to good news—about developments that are aimed in powerful ways at student success and a more effective institution.
The restructuring process began with a memorandum I sent Provost Toro on February 13, 2013 and ended when the fiscal year closed on June 30, 2014. On July 1, 2014, the new structure was in place.
All I need to say today is, it’s over. I believe it has and will accomplish the purposes that were stated at the beginning of it.
Restructuring the organizational framework sets the stage for breaking old habits and patterns and old
ways of doing things.
To use an old phrase, from an army general, I believe—I am optimistic that restructuring will help us to “Quit fighting t
he problem.” That is a negative approach.
With regard to student success, specifically student retention—over more than a decade, there have been recognized authorities and sound research that have told all of higher education the strategies that will make a difference. We need to quit fighting the problem and do the things that will help.
You did the hard work of change during restructuring—now we must ensure we do not keep operating the same way within the fresh, new structure.
In April, UALR engaged with Huron Consulting Group to request a process reengineering for the undergraduate enrollment process (e.g., recruitment, admissions, financial aid, registrar, bursar, advising, and student retention support).
- Recruitment and registrar processes and services that support and facilitate increased undergraduate enrollment
- A system where most problems are addressed effectively on the front lines rather than at the executive level
- Improved collaboration between Academic Affairs, academic units, and other business units
According to Huron, by tightening up our enrollment processes, we can mitigate the procedural frustrations, make it easy for students to enroll, register, determine their schedule, pay their tuition, apply for financial aid, and begin classes. We can concentrate our purpose of connecting “individuals and their potential with local, regional, and global communities, needs, and networks.”
The vice chancellors met with Huron representatives in June to review the preliminary findings. Then, Huron presented their draft recommendations to the Chancellor’s Leadership Group at the end of July.
The final Huron report arrived yesterday and will be posted and available campus-wide. Huron recommends new coordinated methods of strategic planning; a shared enrollment vision to guide recruitment and shape the make-up of the student body; reinforcing Information Technology Services; broadening the scope of Digital Strategies; improving advising; increasing the amount of scholarship dollars available for students; and professional development for staff.
We will need a little time to digest to report; then each vice chancellor will be responsible for the recommendations in his or her area.
There is one way in which all of us can break some old habits and ways of doing things.
You have probably read a number of trade articles about pros and cons of adopting a “customer service” model in an institution of higher education.
I want to tell you that “customer service” is too superficial and flippant a term for what I want to see from the faculty and staff of UALR. “Customer service” does not even begin to describe the responsibility we have to our students.
Nothing is more powerful and life-changing than a college degree for people. It is in fact an unequaled ladder out of the Slough of Despond to the Hill Top of Hope. It has been true thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of times! You know that. You could tell stories that prove what I am saying from your current family generation or the last generation or perhaps another one or two back. A college education gave one person a very different and better future that then rippled to the benefit of following generations.
If, through inattention, or laziness, or attitude, any one of us stands in the way, or fails to encourage, or dismisses the concerns of our students, we aren’t losing a customer; we may be lancing the potential of a human being.
Some of our students do not believe that they have the potential to climb up the ladder. Some of them do not believe they are worthy of your interest. If we are inattentive or lazy, we may very well convince them they don’t and they aren’t. That amounts to a lot more than just losing a customer.
It is our responsibility—each of us—to try to connect with a student, or intervene when there is a problem, or provide feedback in a difficult course, or to return a phone call; or simply offer a friendly face.
“Customer service?” It may be a useful term. But it obscures the deep significance of what we do, and the profound difference we make in our work, one student at a time.
SAFETY SURGE 2014-2015
A special Chancellor’s Committee on Campus Safety, chaired by Dr. Jeff Walker, offered 16 recommendations. We are working to implement all of them.
The key to our ability to make a difference is a new $25 per-semester, per student safety fee, which was strongly supported by student leaders, led by SGA President Lauren McNeaill, and which was approved by the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees.
This year you will see a safety surge, as we will plan to add five additional officers, with more visibility in the interior of the campus; you will see better lighting; a police substation in the Donaghey Student Center; and a guard house off of Fair Park, on 32nd Street.
If you have driven around Campus Drive recently you have noticed the clearing of Coleman Creek12.
Clearing the weeds and underbrush and some low limbs has been akin to Michelangelo’s chiseling that piece of rock and freeing the statue of David13. We discovered a park in the middle of campus—and made that space feel like it is a part of campus. It has become a much more appealing walking area.
That project was driven by the safety report, to produce clear sight lines. Over the months you will see the result of similar projects a number of other places on campus as we proceed to implement the committee’s recommendation for “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design.”
GREEN DOT PROGRAM
Since spring 2013, more than 1,000 students have attended a Green Dot informational event or program. About 200 students have completed the 6-hour bystander training.
There is now a faculty and staff session that will be available to you. Please attend one of those if you have not done so. Green Dot is an opportunity for you to get involved directly in enhancing the safety of the campus.
I believe the good impact of these safety initiatives on student recruitment and retention is self-evident.
We will also be revamping the campus transportation system. Yes, we are saying goodbye to Dolly the Trolley15. This fall, we are moving from the large trolley system to smaller electric vehicles16 that will run both perimeter and interior routes on campus.
PRIDE OF UALR
Externally, the Pride of UALR students and alumni is becoming more evident. I am confident many of you have noticed it. In the University Advancement Division, led by Bob Denman, the Offices of
Alumni and Communications have made connections and have created a climate through outreach and social media that make it is easy to be proud of UALR. Alumni are bragging about their alma mater. Students are posting to The Fountain.
UNIVERSITY AVENUE REDESIGN PROJECT
One aim of restructuring was to strengthen the role of vice chancellors because of the growing need for the chancellors to spend more time protecting and promoting the university’s interests in the outside arena.
One pay-off has been a major project that will be extremely beneficial to UALR and the University District. This is the redesign of University Avenue between 28th Street and Asher Avenue.
Joni Lee, Ron Copeland, and Barrett Allen who have led the University District Initiative, along with the residents in the University District, are the ones who hatched this project back in 2012.
There is a group—named “studio/Main”—made up of very talented architects, engineers, landscape designers, and other professionals from multiple firms who, on a pro bono basis, do selected design projects of significant public impact in the city. South on Main downtown is an example. This past spring we had a most fortunate development in that studio/Main embraced the redesign of University Avenue as one of their projects.
Here are a couple of pictures17, 18 that will remind you of what we have in University Avenue.
University Avenue was built in 1957 and reflected a “wider, straighter, faster” philosophy of transportation, appropriate to an interstate highway but in a city where the goal is to build community. The street has been a barrier separating the university from the businesses and residential areas on the west side. The section of it in question is hazardous and unattractive.
Here is studio/Main’s preliminary re-design of University Avenue from Asher Avenue on the south to 28th Street on the north.19
This sketch shows roundabouts on both ends; narrowing of the street to four lanes, with landscaping of the median and sides; and notably a sizable pedestrian bridge across University Avenue at the low point between the ETAS Building and the Broadmoor Shopping Center parking lot. Perhaps for the first time since the Broadmoor Shopping Center was built, a group of professionals have given serious thought to and offered a sketch of how the area on the west side of University Avenue across from campus might be redeveloped and revitalized and become a part of a university village. There are other features, and the sketch you see will no doubt change some of studio/Main works on it another month or two.
The goal is a more livable and walkable and attractive community, safe for pedestrians and conducive to successful businesses.
This would be an expensive, multi-year, phased, project that will require participation and investment by the City, State, and Federal governments. The university of course does not have money for city streets but we can yield a valuable sliver of land on the eastern of the street, move the fence back as needed, and begin orienting that edge of campus toward the street.
What the design work of studio/Main will do is show what the areas around this section of University Avenue, anchored by UALR, could become. Their work will also provide planning details that we will use in making the case that the City of Little Rock needs to invest in redesign and rehabilitation of University Avenue, which we will do later this year.
To anyone who is thinking this is just a pipe dream, I would encourage them to drive north on University Avenue past Interstate-630 and then look on the west side at what the Midtowne development has become. The area has been transformed in a remarkably short period of time.
Those who attended the CLG retreat a couple of weeks ago saw big plans for Ottenheimer Library’s first and second floors. A learning commons on the first floor with clustered spaces for students to gather and work in groups, a media room for quick printing, information stations, a circular circulation desk, and many other highly-technical and forward-thinking features. Perhaps most important for the future of the university, it will include a ground floor Starbucks.
On the second floor, the 1935 mural, The Struggle of the South, from Commonwealth College near Mena, Arkansas, will be installed. This powerful work of art by Joe Jones is being restored with grant funding from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council. The second floor will also include an area reserved for faculty to gather for work on interdisciplinary projects or their individual work.
Investing in what should be the white-hot intellectual nucleus of our campus will send a message about the vibrancy and relevance of the educational opportunities at UALR. I am enthusiastic about this project. Anne Liebst, Mark Vaughn, and the Learning Commons Task Force have provided great leadership in getting us to this point.
This brief summary doesn’t do the plan justice. The takeaway today is that all the vice chancellors have affirmed that the library project is one of our highest capital projects. We are committed to making the newly-imagined library a reality. It is a way to reaffirm the library as the intellectual pivot point of a university. When complete, Ottenheimer Library will be the most advanced university library in the state.
PROVOST ZULMA TORO
I want to say word about the Provost.
The Provost and I have an hour-long meeting each week. She and I are close together in our understanding and thinking about UALR—its longstanding, laudable mission as a metropolitan university; its strengths; its challenges; and how we need to be moving forward.
In her remarks a few minutes ago she gave a core element of our response to eVersity. Rather than fixate on eVersity and how it might affect us, we should tend to our business and offer the strong and well-conceived on-line programs that will bring us our share of the on-line market. I am confident of her leadership in this endeavor, as I know she has given considerable thought regarding how we can succeed.
I have confidence in her leadership across the whole range of instructional and research and engagement issues of the university. If you have been paying attention since the beginning of the restructuring process, you have seen very consistent evidence that she enjoys my confidence and support.
The academic division, in simple terms symbolized by students and faculty, is the heart of a university. All the rest of us, in one way or another, are here to support the academic division.
I particularly applaud Provost Toro on one point. She has viewed student success, specifically retention, as primarily an academic issue—by which I mean it is primarily a responsibility of deans, chairs, and faculty. Granted, it is a responsibility of all of us.
A number of programs initiated by student affairs personnel have made remarkable differences in the success of a number of high-risk groups. But under her leadership we are going to see a comprehensive, integrated, approach with strong commitment and participation by academic personnel.
You have permission to look at this university in a new way.
I want you to accept the fact that UALR does not take a back seat to any campus in Arkansas. UALR is its own unique dynamo of instruction, research, creativity activity, and community engagement in the state’s capital city.
In recent decades higher education nationally has been moving toward institutions like UALR.
Pundits are urging institutions to value innovation, be nimble, embrace students at all stages of their lifespan, incorporate technology and innovative pedagogy, and to engage with the community—in other words, to become more like UALR.
We do not have to manufacture the desirable components of a vibrant urban, community engaged, research university. We have the pieces in place.
Our existing strengths are what will see us through the present dip in enrollment.
Every one of us plays an important role in the university. I look forward to working with you as we strive to accomplish the university’s noble purposes.