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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato
Office of the President

2004 Convocation Address

Page address: http://www.mnsu.edu/president/archived/convocation20040823.html

University Convocation Address by President Richard DavenportThank you, Vice President Olson, for emceeing today's convocation. Welcome back, everyone, to what promises to be one of our most exciting and progressive years in the history of our institution.

I would like to thank Chancellor McCormick for sharing his inspiring thoughts and vision in the video we just viewed. I would also like to recognize some distinguished guests who have been instrumental in building the foundations of MSU. Dr. James Nickerson was president of Mankato State College from 1967 to 1973. Now retired, President Nickerson resides in Mankato. Please stand so that we may welcome you.

Dr. Claire Faust served this university with distinction from 1962 until his retirement in 1987. He continues active involvement with the University. Later this morning, we will present the Claire Faust Public Service Award. Please stand and be recognized.

"I would like to visit with you about some of the more far reaching issues in higher education at a national and state level. These issues affect all of us and remind us of the value of looking beyond our own campus boundaries to understand the bigger forces that are impacting us."

I also want to welcome those emeriti faculty and staff who have joined us on this Convocation Day. I ask that you stand so we may gratefully acknowledge your contributions to this university and thank you for your continuing involvement.

Before I discuss our vision and goals for the coming year at MSU, I would like to visit with you about some of the more far reaching issues in higher education at a national and state level. These issues affect all of us and remind us of the value of looking beyond our own campus boundaries to understand the bigger forces that are impacting us.

One can hardly pick up a magazine or newspaper these days without reading about a national agenda for higher education that emphasizes the need for closing the achievement gaps, creating increased student access, funding shortages, and demonstrating accountability. In fact, in yesterday's Star Tribune, an entire series of Op Ed articles focused on the very problems and issues in higher education that I am going to talk about today.

The continued need for a college education will increase in the years ahead. The traditional route to economic mobility in the U.S. has been through higher education and this is not likely to change. In a recent Business Higher Education Forum, it has been predicted that enrollments will increase by 2.5 million students by 2015. Some of these increases will be the result of increases in population; however, much of the growth will be from higher attendance rates. Currently, the rates include 70% for recent high school graduates. Attendance by working adults is also expected to dramatically increase. Some are surprised to learn that 40% of today's college and university students are 25 years of age or older. Equally so, approximately 40% of undergraduate students are transfer students. Also, a large majority of the new student populations will be comprised of minority students with the most significant increase among Latino students.

The international economy during the past 20 years has placed a premium on skilled college graduates. The graduation of skilled workers from higher education is not adequate to meet the needs of the future. The U.S. economy, by 2020, will require 12-14 million more skilled workers than are graduating today.

"Employers are searching for more than just graduates with degrees. They want graduates who have a combination of skills and knowledge."

Employers are searching for more than just graduates with degrees. They want graduates who have a combination of skills and knowledge. Graduates with abilities in areas such as, problem-solving, writing, communication and analytical skills, as well as leadership and teamwork experience are sought after. The workplace, employment opportunities and employer expectations are quite different today compared to when most of us here entered the job market. The competition for good jobs is intense and employers are demanding more from their new hires. My son has recently graduated and has been actively searching for a job since May…he tells me that it is very competitive in the job market today.

In addition, new graduates should not be surprised to learn that additional training and education will be needed on the job. For years, business and industry have asked for help and frequently been disappointed in higher education institutions in meeting their specialized needs. Consequently, they have turned away and today a significant amount of education and training is being provided by the new corporate and for-profit universities focused on addressing the needs of particular industries. At the same time, the confidence and credibility levels for traditional higher education institutions has eroded during the past 25 years. There is good reason for this public response.

"And, yet when you examine the mission statements of most institutions, it is clear that there is a critical linkage between higher education and the public good."

A large sector of today's public believes that colleges and universities have become worlds unto themselves with their own academic agenda, professional norms and distinct culture that are disconnected from society. As noted by one higher education visionary, Joe Graba, "institutions that served us so well in the last half of the 20th century are becoming out of date. " The academy's commitment to outreach and engagement has been replaced with other priorities as we have stepped aside from our role in public life. And, yet when you examine the mission statements of most institutions, it is clear that there is a critical linkage between higher education and the public good. Regardless, the result is that over the last generation, Americans are less connected to their communities, one another, and in public life than in the past. There is good rhetoric in higher education about developing graduates who will be good citizens and future leaders, but few institutions have done much to assure these qualities are a part of the educational experience until recently. Institutions of higher education have done a poor job of defining the works they have been involved in on behalf of the public good and their students.

All is not lost, though. There are changes taking place that underscore our commitment to these ideals. At MSU, we are committed to The American Democracy Project, civic engagement, service learning and volunteerism. Also, many institutions are recognizing the importance of going back to their roots and seeking partnerships and collaborations with the private sector and the business community, and to play key roles in economic development in their regions. We realize that our campuses should play a central role in shaping society. When we say that our institutions are committed to the "public good" it implies a moral obligation to attend to social problems either by directing resources toward applied research, or engaged scholarship, community-building and doing good works in the community. The American system of higher education needs to continue its long tradition of public service. Efforts in this area will lead to enhanced credibility and trust in higher education.

We need to also take a look at the impact of reduced funding over the past decade. As most of you know, funding for public higher education comes primarily from two sources, state support and tuition dollars. When state support dwindles we turn to the students to keep our ship afloat. In the early 1990s, student tuition accounted for a much smaller percentage of overall institutional revenues. More specifically, in 1995, the MSU overall budget consisted of 37% tuition revenues compared to 55% today. In regard to state appropriations, MSU has actually experienced a $700 per student decrease in state funding since 2001. At MSU, our tuition has increased by 47% from 1999 to 2005, or 62% when compounding the increases over the same period of time. These changes, while clearly dramatic, are typical of tuition increases throughout much of the nation. And still, MSU's tuition ranks among the lowest of the Minnesota state universities. A small consolation to our students and their families.

Minnesota, like most states is experiencing a change in the value it places on higher education which was at one time seen as the primary engine to drive the state's economy. Minnesota was at one time considered to have the top higher education system in the state and was supported by its publics. Today, however, the competition for dollars has resulted in a revenue squeeze. The pattern is similar from state to state in regard to funding priorities. K-12 education, prisons, roads and highways, and social services top the list with higher education falling close to the bottom of state priorities. Legislators are well-aware of the fact that institutions have been forced to raise tuition in order to hold the line in maintaining quality program offerings and services. In fact, most institutions have already cut their budgets back to the point that they are so lean that there is little room for additional reductions. And, funding to enhance existing academic programs is almost non-existent, not to mention the difficulty we face in forging ahead with new and relevant programs. The increased costs of higher education are being placed upon the backs of our students. Higher education leaders and policymakers have not found a practical solution to this dilemma.

"At MSU, enrollment has increased by almost 2,000 students since the 1999-2000 academic year. We are now holding enrollment at 14,000 students which is close to the maximum capacity of our current campus."

Where does that leave us? State funding for higher education is not likely to increase in the near future; we will be fortunate if we can maintain existing funding in the years ahead. Tuition has already risen so rapidly in the last few years that we must figure out a way to slow it down, or anticipate reducing access. And, yet we continue to enroll more and more students. At MSU, enrollment has increased by almost 2,000 students since the 1999-2000 academic year. We are now holding enrollment at 14,000 students which is close to the maximum capacity of our current campus. We continue to struggle with questions such as, how much is a student willing to pay for a college education? What is fair? Who gets excluded from a college education? How much debt can our students and their families continue to handle? How much can our students work to help finance their education and still find enough time to study? These are important questions for all of us in higher education. Students coming from affluent families will continue to pursue their studies unencumbered with few financial restraints, but others will find it increasingly difficult to cover the increased costs of higher education. Some members of Congress, such as Representative McKeon from California, have been strong proponents of a bill that would control state tuition increases; this is a proposal that are many states will fight, but the initiative is gaining some bipartisan momentum in Congress. In fact, the new Higher Education Act may increase the federal role in accountability similar to the No Child Left Behind legislation. This would link the K-12 standards-based assessment and accountability reforms to higher education. Regardless of this proposed legislation, the central issues will continue to be access, achievement and accountability in the years ahead. Higher education must, somehow, move higher up the scale of priorities among our legislative leaders, be involved in economic development and return to its original mission of promoting the public good. This cannot be accomplished by only talking about it; we must act on our convictions.

Governor Pawlenty recently formed a Citizen's League to serve as an advisory task force on higher education co-chaired by Vance Opperman. The group has been meeting for several months and recently issued a survey to business leaders throughout the state focused on several important issues. Some of the questions in the survey include:

Are double-digit tuition increases acceptable?
Should Minnesota further limit the number of students each of its universities and colleges would accept?
Should higher education institutions have a sharply delineated focus and business plans tied to state aid?
Is MnSCU too large and too geographically diverse?
Should funding for technical and community activities become part of a K-14 funding mechanism, somewhat reliant on property taxes?
Should funding in general for higher education follow student migration, meaning that a number of out state institutions would be downsized?
Do business leaders support continued constriction of state support for higher education in Minnesota?

The answers to these important questions will determine, in part, the future of higher education in Minnesota. We will continue to monitor the work of this task force. Their recommendations are expected this fall. Again, to reference the editorial in Sunday's Star Tribune, the author points out that "Governor Pawlenty may have taken a no-new-taxes pledge, but the Citizen's League did not – and should not. "

"We moved forward with an academic master plan to reinvigorate many existing programs, eliminate others, and develop new and relevant programs."

Many understand that institutions will be forced to make tough decisions regarding the continuation of high quality programs. This is a "Catch 22" because we need the graduates from these programs to keep our economy moving. In fact, I have often heard people talking about the need to reduce program duplication to save costs. On the surface, this sounds like a plausible solution, but when the workforce demand is so high in many areas this solution is not really practical. Regardless, no one benefits from a failing program that has been forced to reduce its quality and ability to graduate well-educated students. At the same time, it is important that universities demonstrate vigilance in weeding out programs that have outlived their purposes. MSU has been actively involved in the process for years, but needs to tell its story to the public. This past year, efforts have been stepped up in this area. We moved forward with an academic master plan to reinvigorate many existing programs, eliminate others, and develop new and relevant programs. According to Vice President Olson, we have made good progress on this initiative. I believe everyone knows that there has been too much institutional drift in program development within higher education and we simply cannot afford to support programs with limited student appeal. That is not to say that we will reduce curriculum or programs important to our liberal studies core. Our efforts toward academic excellence are also critical to our future.

I will now turn to issues closer to home, here at MSU. This past year has been very productive in moving forward our agenda as a Modern University. Our strategic planning process involved the entire University community. Our focused strategic plan moved from an ideology to a planning phase and finally, for some, to implementation. So many strategic planning efforts from the past have been unfunded. In this case, we have committed $500,000 to help make change happen. These resources have already been distributed among each of the strategic priorities and I fully expect that we will be looking to add additional resources to our planning efforts in the year ahead. As you know, our priorities include:

  • Diversity
  • Distance learning
  • Graduate education
  • Academic excellence in undergraduate education and Campus-wide planning in a variety of areas:
    • Public relations and marketing
    • Campus facilities
    • Enrollment management
    • Fundraising
"We were overwhelmed to receive five of the six MnSCU system awards provided by the Office of the Chancellor in the areas of information technology, student affairs, facilities management, curriculum programming, and serving under-represented students."

MSU MnSCU Awards
President Davenport with 2004 Service Award Honorees
We've also been busy in other areas, and attracted attention for our work. We were overwhelmed to receive five of the six MnSCU system awards provided by the Office of the Chancellor in the areas of information technology, student affairs, facilities management, curriculum programming, and serving under-represented students. Our shared governance model is operating successfully, and we are working hard to enhance communication throughout the campus. Our student retention rates are the highest in the system and administrative costs per student among the lowest in the system. Our new Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has gotten off to an excellent start and is meeting the needs of our faculty. In addition, the Center has developed a new Faculty Orientation Program and Mentor Program to be launched this fall. A new professional development task force is also preparing an ambitious plan that will benefit staff with the variety of opportunities and events that will lead to greater workplace satisfaction, advancement and excellence. In addition, MSU administrators provided the leadership for a new Graduate Teaching Center in the Twin Cities.

You'll see more of the awards and accolades MSU faculty and staff received over the past year in today's Free Press. This summer when we looked at the list of those honors, we decided it was so impressive that we needed to let the public know. While it was not possible to include every individual's accomplishments, we have tried to provide a good cross-section of our points of pride. As you leave this morning, please take a copy of the Free Press featuring a full-page ad listing as many of those awards and honors as we could compile. It's just one way of showing how proud we are of your accomplishments.

Also, the U.S. News and World Reports rankings were recently released and MSU improved in six categories from the year before, but still remain in the third tier of Midwest master's-degree universities. We have a ways to go to move to a higher tier, but we are definitely on the right track and have a public relations plan to help us achieve that prominence.

We also have some new additions to our campus community as you heard when Dr. Olson introduced the administration at the beginning of our ceremonies today. I am very excited and pleased to have the caliber of administrators join our team. We are also pleased to have 71 new faculty and 20 new staff members -- 14% of whom add to our campus diversity. In addition, I understand that we will be enrolling more than 150 first-year students of color, the highest number in recent years.

"Perhaps our most important single goal for the coming year will be to prepare the Self-study Report for the NCA Higher Learning Commission leading to a renewed institutional accreditation."

The coming year also brings new challenges to address

  1. Perhaps our most important single goal for the coming year will be to prepare the Self-study Report for the NCA Higher Learning Commission leading to a renewed institutional accreditation. In 2006, we will have a site visit and need to be prepared to meet all the new standards. This will require the involvement of the entire University community and I ask your support for the important work of the Self-Study Committee.
  2. Clearly, I believe we need to continue to push hard for a new addition and renovation of Trafton Hall. I will be continuing to lobby our friends in the legislature to get a bonding bill passed that includes our $55.0 million project. And, we need to complete the Centennial Student Union and Otto Arena projects.
  3. A new strategic priority that focuses on our international students and study abroad programs needs to addressed and discussed among campus constituents. The charge will involve a reorganization plan, an academic plan, and a recruitment and retention plan that will enhance our efforts at internationalizing our campus.
  4. Another topic for discussion involves examining where we want to be in regards to our focus on holistic wellness for our students in regards to fitness, alcohol and drug usage, and good mental health.
  5. We will continue to promote the mission of serving as an institution for the public good by supporting the American Democracy Project, volunteerism, service learning and civic engagement.
  6. With a hiring of our founding Dean of Extended Learning, we will move forward with a plan and stronger mission in this area consistent with our strategic plan to address the education needs of our off-campus constituents.
  7. And, we will strive to improve communication at all levels of the institution and implement a new marketing and public relations plan.
  8. It will be important to follow through with our efforts in faculty and staff development through our Human Resources Office, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and our new Technology and Teaching Center.
  9. Finally, I am hopeful that we will be positioned to announce a new capital campaign sometime before the end of the academic year.

We will stay the course with our existing strategic priorities; and yet, there are additional areas that need to be addressed. We are up to the challenge and I know that this will be a memorable and exceptional year for MSU.

"As a result, we have moved down the road with a renewed sense of direction and vitality. We have achievable and realistic plans that will help to transform our institution into a modern university. The evidence of positive change is tangible and is everywhere you look."

In closing, I want to personally thank all of you, especially the strategic planning task forces that have worked so hard on the strategic priorities. It is truly a community team effort. As a result, we have moved down the road with a renewed sense of direction and vitality. We have achievable and realistic plans that will help to transform our institution into a modern university. The evidence of positive change is tangible and is everywhere you look. For instance, examine the current issue of the Today magazine to see how we look to our public. Notice the changes in the enrollment plan, the beautiful campus facilities, new construction, attention to academic standards and program review, public relations and marketing, graduate education, a new web portal, institutional professional development plans, shared governance, relationships with the City and campus neighborhoods, the Vikings Training Camp, our students and the outstanding faculty and staff who are committed to the research and learning enterprise. MSU was honored to be selected as the site to provide the Help Desk for the System's new Desire 2 Learn software. In addition, you will meet a relatively new administrative group that is eager to work cooperatively with each of you. We are about to announce an athletic master plan that will address Title IX compliance issues and help MSU to become more competitive in our league. We will work hard to prevent any future civil disturbances and move forward with a plan in conjunction with the City to manage this in the future. MSU is a campus that is truly on the move and isn't simply talking about being great, but is doing great things! We have much to be proud of here at MSU . . . This is a great place to learn and to work! For too long we have been trying to get people to listen to our institutional story. It is now time for the public to learn about Minnesota State University, Mankato. As your President, and with your guidance and help, I intend to announce and promote our modern university throughout the State of Minnesota and the region. We have a wonderful story to tell.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for all of your good work.