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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

2008 Convocation Address

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'2008 Convocation Address--'A Time to Reflect and a Time to Change'--President Richard Davenport'

President Davenport giving a speechW

elcome again to all of our new university community members and to our returning faculty and staff. We always look forward to members of the Mankato community and emeriti faculty and staff joining us on this special day, too. I think it says a lot about a university when two past presidents take the time to attend and show continued interest in the institution.

A special welcome to Presidents Emeriti Nickerson and Preska. They continue to give generously of their time and support to the University. Also, I would like to thank Chancellor McCormick for sharing with us his vision and thoughts in the video you may have viewed in the concourse prior to the formal program.

My presentation today will primarily focus on four areas: our accomplishments and challenges; the national political landscape for higher education in the coming years; ideas regarding how Minnesota State Mankato can make a notable difference in educating students on global issues and global solutions; and finally, some very brief thoughts about our focus for the coming year as we continue to stay the course and make progress with our existing strategic priorities.

In review of this past year, I hope you are as amazed as I am as we look back on your accomplishments and successes.

We are a university with successful alumni and other good friends eager to help move the University both forward and upward to new heights.

In the area of diversity, we continue to make progress in recruiting and enrolling underserved students. Our headcount has increased from 595 students in FY2005 to 1070 in FY2008. This represents 7.9% of our total student population and an increase of 79 percent. In addition, Vice President Michael Fagin tells me that our numbers look even better for another significant increase this fall. Recently, Minnesota State Mankato was featured among the national leaders in recruiting and retaining students of color by Diverse Issues in Higher Education. The article is available online. Likewise, Minnesota State Mankato has shown a significant increase in the number of faculty of color –from 91 in FY2005 to 120 during FY2008 – an increase of over 30 percent.

Minnesota State University continues to be known as an exceptional community with faculty, staff, administrators, and students who embody creative and analytical thinking, energy, initiative, and follow-through

Our campus diversity was also enhanced by the increase in the number of international students – almost eight percent above the previous year. And, international enrollment is expected to increase again significantly in fall 2008 by as much as 73 percent over last year’s numbers.

In addition, we are expecting to increase by 12 percent new and returning students combined in the fall. Our retention rate for freshmen moving to the sophomore year is the highest within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System reaching 79 percent with the possibility of exceeding that this September. Our continued challenge, however, is to increase our retention rate of junior level students. Almost all Minnesota public universities are witnessing a decline in the number of transfer students.

Other accomplishments include a presidential statewide tour of 25 two-year colleges, and I am pleased to report that we hope to wrap-up these visits by the end of this semester. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive as we move forward with a record number of additional partnerships, dual enrollments and transfer agreements. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of increasing our transfer students during a declining period of transfers in Minnesota.

Also, faculty are to be congratulated for supporting a new College of University Extended Education this past spring, which is an important step for our University in meeting the needs of adult, non-traditional and diverse students who are unable to enroll in classes on our residential campus to meet their educational objectives. We are making great headway as we develop sound business plans that will enable this program to be successful. Next week as classes begin, we will welcome our first students at a new center at 7700 France in the southern metro area to serve the needs of these urban students. In collaboration with Normandale Community College, we are optimistic about the success of this new venture.

We are moving toward our goal of an anticipated on-campus enrollment increase of slightly over 300 additional students compared to last fall's totals. Translated, this means we should see more than a 6.3 percent increase over last year's new entering students.

In Fall 2007, we welcomed our first doctoral students to Minnesota State in two new programs – Doctor of Nursing Practice and the Doctor of Education in Counselor Education and Supervision. This past June, the Higher Learning Commission approved our new Doctor of Psychology in School Psychology and we will enroll our first students in the program this fall. Our plan is to continue developing additional doctoral programs. In addition, our Masters of Social Work (the first in the System) has large enrollments and our MBA program was fully accredited by the AACSB. Our total graduate student enrollment for all programs is anticipated to increase by five percent this fall.

Enrollment of international students is also very positive with an additional 185 international freshmen and approximately one-third more international transfer students. And, we are proud of the diversity of our international students representing 71 countries on our campus. A total of 320 students studied abroad during the academic year. This was an increase of 15 percent from the previous year. During October, I traveled as a member of Governor Pawlenty’s Trade Mission to India and visited three universities. As a follow-up to my meetings, President Emerita Margaret Preska met with senior officials during her visit to India in January. This visit was followed by a delegation of Minnesota State Mankato officials who travelled to India in April to finalize agreements with three major universities opening doors for faculty and student exchanges, research collaboration, and other partnership activities. Our international team has a strategic plan for continuing to open up new opportunities and partnerships around the world, including recruitment efforts in 50 overseas advising centers and private high schools in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates which will be sending students to Minnesota State Mankato this fall.

We look forward to new partnerships in the future with Mexico and Latin America, as well as Eastern Europe. Our focus on internationalizing our campus is becoming a reality as we continue to make great strides in this area.

Our institutional accomplishments encompass almost every facet of our operation. The outstanding work of Minnesota State Mankato faculty and staff was recognized once again by the Office of the Chancellor. We received the top award for excellence in financial management and excellence in facilities management. We are especially proud that there were no findings in our year-end audit…a perfect audit! Additionally, we received a clean sweep of all possible awards given by the Office of the Chancellor in the Academic and Student Affairs areas where we competed with 31 other colleges and universities for the top honors. We received top awards for best curriculum innovation; best student affairs programming and administrator of the year. We have received the outstanding administrator of the year award for three out of the past four years with Deans Earley, Frey and most recently Miller being selected. We celebrate this recognition of quality that benefits our students. In addition, we are proud of the accomplishments of our student government leaders. Past president, Chris Frederick, was selected as president of the statewide university student organization. Many of our student government leaders are also presidential scholars and distinguished students and leaders in a variety of areas.

We continue to make great strides in our international programs and look forward to involving as many, faculty, staff and students as we can in international experiences. We now have 21 university partnerships in 18 countries.

Construction continued on schedule for two new buildings on our campus. The $25 million Julia A. Sears residence hall will open this fall and Ford Hall, a $32.9 million addition to Trafton Science Center, will be dedicated this September. Work has already begun on the remodeling of the current Trafton Science Center. In addition, a revised proposal to upgrade our outdoor recreation, intramural and athletic fields was developed in conjunction with Student Association leadership during the year. The $8.5 million proposal was formally approved by the Student Senate and will be financed through student fees. Also, the University was engaged in developing an institutional campus master plan this past year, and we hope to finalize our efforts early this year.

In our Maverick Athletic program we enjoyed an unprecedented level of success this past year, including a third place finish in the national Director’s Cup standings, the school’s best finish ever and a ranking which places us within the top one percent of all the 290 NCAA Division II schools. Last March, Minnesota State was the site of the prestigious NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships where we showcased our outstanding facilities, and where Katelin Rains captured an individual national championship with a record-setting pole vaulting performance. As the school year ended, our outstanding teams closed the door on competition in the North Central Conference in fine style, capturing six conference championships, and a sweep of the Men’s All-Sport, Women’s All-Sport, and North Central Conference Cup trophies. Nearly 200 athletes are on the Dean’s list and the GPA of athletes is slightly higher than the overall student body. And, graduation rates for athletes are at 67 percent, which is 20 percent higher than our overall student body. We are proud of our Maverick athletes, coaches, and staff. This year we look forward to establishing new traditions and competitive rivalries in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

Fundraising is also breaking new records. We raised the bar significantly by having the second highest year in our history for fundraising with gifts and pledges of $12,358,843 and we expect to reach even higher levels this coming year as we gain momentum for our capital campaign. We are so thankful for the generosity of Glen and Becky Taylor, and Lowell and David and Debbie Andreas for their major gifts and pledges alone amounting to almost $15.0 million this year to endow our Nursing Doctoral program and programs in the Arts and Humanities respectively. I thank Dr. Michael Miller for his outstanding leadership this past year and welcome Mr. Doug Mayo, who joined us late this summer from Colorado State University, and will lead the Advancement Division. The campaign will focus on increasing our endowments; support a new College of Business building, scholarships and numerous other university needs not funded by state resources. We are also making steady progress in reaching out to our alumni and increasing our participation rate.

More records are being broken in our sponsored research programs. Final figures are not available at this time for the fiscal year; however, it appears we will once again exceed the previous year’s goals. Our University was named one of three U.S. academic partners in a new, International Renewable Energy Technology Institute to facilitate the exchange of ideas and technology between Sweden and the United States. Also, an unprecedented $5.0 million WIRE grant for economic development in the area of renewable energy was awarded to Minnesota where Minnesota State was selected as the key university partner. Our local members of Congress have been highly successful in securing millions of dollars in federal earmarks for our University to support alternative energy research. By the way, a study by the Wilder Research Foundation noted that Minnesota State Mankato has an economic impact of an estimated $377 million annually.

We continue to develop strong programs and operating procedures as we move forward with an initiative to link our planning, budget and assessment processes.

Our new Division of Strategic Business, Education and Regional Partnerships, under the leadership of Vice President Hoffman, has been actively working with businesses, educational leaders and others in opening up opportunities for the University to partner in research, internship, and other endeavors. We have already begun to see the dividends of Dr. Hoffman’s efforts this past year and anticipate even more benefits unfolding in the year ahead.

We are working with a consultant from the Minnesota Quality Council who will assist in a comprehensive organizational assessment as the first step in developing continuous quality improvement principles of the Baldrige model. Budget and planning challenges will be significant during the next few years.

Clearly, I could go on and on with all of your individual and our institutional accomplishments, but unfortunately time does not allow me that pleasure this morning. However, I do hope everyone receives a copy of the Mankato Free Press full-page ad we ran today acknowledging the outstanding work of all of our faculty and staff. The university community takes pride in all of your accomplishments.

And now for the other part of my university message. At this point let me change focus for a minute and talk about the economy, the forthcoming elections and the political landscape for higher education in the state and nation. Recently, Dr. Larry Isaak, president of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact and Chancellor Emeritus of the North Dakota University System offered some insight in a July publication, Inside Higher Education. Dr. Isaak points out that in the next 15 years we must figure out how to educate millions more of our citizens at our colleges and universities. He comments that “if our colleges and universities cannot produce the millions of additional graduates, we could confront a crisis that will lead to a preponderance of ‘closed for business’ signs unless urgent and significant action is taken.”1 This sounds a little overly dramatic, however, governors, lawmakers and educational leaders generally understand the importance of an educated workforce and the resulting impact on our economy. In fact, both presidential candidates have acknowledged the serious challenges of educating more of our citizens and have proposed strategies for addressing this issue. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, SHEEO, “the U.S. needs to produce 16 million more graduates with associate’s or bachelor’s degrees by 2025 to match today’s leading industrialized nations.”2

It is important to understand how our higher education system is falling behind so we can address the problem. Some of the reasons given include: “academic preparation is inadequate; only one-third of high school students graduate on time. More than half the freshmen at many colleges take one or more remedial courses. Financial aid is complex and poorly targeted. Every year, one million low-income students don’t apply for financial aid because they lack information on the process. Student success is not a priority. Many low-income and first-generation college students attend community colleges and less-selective public universities that have too few resources to invest in student success. And, our research preeminence is threatened. Foreign universities are attracting more of their own top students, and many who choose American institutions often return home upon graduation to live and work rather than stay in the United States.”3

One of the most important concerns of our day centers on the need for a new kind of leadership. A leadership that is based on a concern for our planet that is built on knowledge of world economes, world cultures and not juist life as it exists in Minnesota and our nation.

Another major challenge for our nation’s higher education system lies with funding support. One of the main reasons for this problem is federal and state budgets are in a downward spiral due to economic conditions and spending for health care, human services, transportation, public education and defense which continues to consume our national budget. There are likely to be very little additional resources to assist higher education. Policy makers seem to be opposed to larger increases in tuition and fees to balance budgets. According to Isaak, the result will be that “productivity and affordability in higher education will take center stage just as accountability took center stage this past decade.”4 We should plan for even greater funding challenges in the years ahead even when our economy recovers.

Our challenges in higher education also need to be put into perspective in relation to higher education outcomes internationally. In fact, the next issue of Change Magazine will report on the status of higher education in relation to other world leaders. However, SHEEO emphasized that “the higher education system of the last century no longer meets the needs of the American people…Our system of higher education has not kept pace with the rising global standard of excellence. The U.S. ranks tenth in the world in the percentage of adults with a higher education credential…Only 40 percent of adults aged 25 to 34 have an associate degree or higher, which is no improvement over the…baby-boom generation. This is in part because, despite high participation and enrollment rates, we have the worst degree-completion rate among developed nations, especially for low-income students and minorities.”5

“A decade ago U.S. research universities were virtually unchallenged in attracting the world’s most gifted scholars. Today, universities in the European Union and Asia are rapidly developing more scientific and technical capacity.”6 Some of you may recall I talked about China’s project 211 earlier. The project for China was to create 100 world class universities and they are just a couple of years away from accomplishing that. “They now provide competitive educational and research opportunities for brilliant scholars, who no longer travel to the U.S. for education or work. This competition puts our country’s research preeminence at serious risk.”7 The international world of higher education is rapidly changing and becoming very competitive.

Closer to home, you all know that we have talked about global concerns and issues ever since I arrived on campus. We are living in the midst of a remarkable time, the global era, one of unprecedented opportunities for combining forces with entities across the world, yet one that forces us to confront disease epidemics, global warming and climate changes, energy, food and water shortages, dramatic population shifts, economic shifts, terrorism and technological advances that challenge the way we think, plan, communicate and provide education.

It will largely be up to colleges and universities of this country to prepare our graduates to be future leaders with a broad and deep understanding of world problems. They will assume a major role in the discovery of new knowledge and innovative applications of knowledge.

And, that’s where a Minnesota State Mankato education comes into play. Resently, I attended a presentation by Thomas Friedman who has a new book coming out; you all recall he is the author of The World is Flat. He pointed out that the true leaders of this world and the future will be those that can connect the dots – those that can cross academic silos and barriers – those that work in one field but need to understand the academic areas of so many other fields. Because that is the world in which we live. Connecting the dots of our future leaders is essential. Our academic leaders on this campus are talking seriously about the challenges of our world and about how we can best prepare our students to meet them. I have always believed that universities are capable of making a world of difference, but much of their solution-generating potential goes unrealized because of a lack of focus on real-world problems, limited ability to bridge college and department silos, and no centralized way to marshal and apply resources. Therefore, it is heartening for me to hear that enthusiastic faculty discussions are turning into action regarding redesigning our Honors program with a focus on global leadership. And, other academic leaders are working on a campus-wide initiative dedicated to generating global solutions for global problems. This initiative may take the form of an institute that will engage faculty and students alike through maximizing their ability to think creatively, solve problems collaboratively, do research that makes a difference, and act as leaders in our world. I can hardly think of anything more exciting for our campus than to have our faculty, students and academic leaders engaged in solutions to real world problems. I extend my full support and encouragement to all of you involved in this innovative initiative.

Maintaining strategic priorities is important if we are to be successful. In the coming year, 2008-2009 we will stay the course and continue with established strategic priorities in the areas of:

  • Diversity and International Students
  • Enrollment Management
  • College of University Extended Education
  • Research and Sponsored Programs
  • Upgrades to Outdoor Recreation, Intramural and Athletic Fields
  • Budget, Planning and Assessment
  • Fundraising
  • New Doctoral Programs

In addition, I want our university to work together to eventually become the best place to work in Minnesota. The Great Place to Work Task Force has developed a number of objectives that need to be thoroughly discussed with all campus groups. We discussed the charge given to the Task Force during our recent fall retreat in St. Peter last week. This is an achievable and worthy goal that could distinguish our university from all others.

Finally, I hope that with the help of all of you, some more than others, we will move our campaign forward and beyond the quiet phase this year. This will involve much of my time, but I also enlist all of you to help by showing the public just how good we are here at Minnesota State Mankato. Our needs are great and our resources are limited. We need to be successful at securing external funds to support the high quality programs, as well as other university and student needs.

We have an outstanding vision and dream to fulfill. You have heard me say that we are all involved in something big, something lasting, a legacy in the making. A university of distinction, a university for the people of Minnesota and the world.

Colleagues and guests, thank you all for your good work and the passion you demonstrate everyday in serving our students.

We have a wonderful story to tell about Minnesota State University, Mankato...our students, our staff and our faculty. And, we will continue telling and showing others through our actions and deeds, that we are an institution molding leaders of the future.