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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

2010 Convocation Address

Page address:
August 16, 2010
10:00 a.m.
Bresnan Arena in the Taylor Center
Minnesota State University, Mankato

"Cross-Walking Our Goals and Challenges"

Richard Davenport, President

Welcome and thank you for choosing to attend this year's opening convocation. I want to extend a special welcome to all of the new members of our university community. We're glad that you have joined us. And, to our faculty and staff returning after the summer break, hello, it's good to see all of you again! I hope that you are refreshed and as excited about the beginning of the new academic year as I am.

Members of the Emeriti Faculty and Staff are here to celebrate with us, and I extend a welcome to them and thank them again for their ongoing support of the work we continue to do on behalf of our students.

I want to take a moment also to recognize and welcome a special guest, Dr. Margaret Preska, former President of Minnesota State University, Mankato. Dr. Preska shares her energy and enthusiasm for Minnesota State Mankato with everyone she encounters whether in Mankato, across the nation or on her international travels. We are happy that you could join us on this special day, Margaret.

Again this year, Chancellor James McCormick has provided us with a message in which he shares his thoughts for the coming year. The link to his greeting will be e-mailed to all faculty and staff this afternoon, and I encourage you to view it as you prepare for the year ahead.

We begin this year reflecting somewhat on the past year, but more importantly we begin this year with renewed energy to share our stories and create new ones. When I came to Minnesota State Mankato in July 2002, I recall thinking that our university was one of higher education's best kept secrets. We have done a lot during the past eight years to communicate state-wide, nationally and even internationally – and as the video we just saw so vividly illustrates, the "big ideas," "real-world thinking" and "going further than you thought possible" stories of our successful students, graduates, faculty and staff are becoming more widely known and certainly highly respected.

Today, I wish to communicate my thoughts about our current economic condition, celebrate with you just a few of the many, many significant accomplishments during the past year, mention the challenges facing higher education today and tomorrow, and share with you my ideas for the coming year. It all adds up to the reality that to continue to be successful in this changing environment, we are going to need to embark on a new way of thinking and working together – I call it "cross-walking our goals and challenges" and I'll explain the concept further.

As we navigate our way through one of the most trying times in our history, we need to keep in mind that higher education is not alone during these dark hours. I don't believe anyone would have been able to predict that the economic downturn would be so extreme and long-lasting at both the State and national levels. The expression frequently cited today by leaders, including higher education leaders, across the country, "the new normal," suggests clearly that once we resolve the current financial crisis, we should not expect to go back to the way it was with restored stable funding at the levels we came to expect in the past.

Given the "new normal" we will need to prioritize our programs and activities and focus on ways in which we can meet our state's educational needs knowing we cannot rely on stable resources from the State. Since there has been strong, broad-based support for keeping education affordable, it is not likely we will solve our problems with large tuition increases. Therefore, we will continue to do what we did last year - prioritize our programs and look for efficiencies in how we deliver the quality education that is the hallmark of Minnesota State Mankato. Thanks to the combined efforts of our labor groups, administration, and students, we begin this year with a balanced budget and are well-positioned to complete the thoughtful planning that will guide us through the projected revenue shortfall in Minnesota in 2012.

Last year, we took some extremely difficult and bold steps to reduce our budget through mostly instructional cuts. Needless to say, last year's task was not easy, as we all agonized over cuts that needed to be made. We tried to accomplish these goals in ways that had the least negative effect on our institution, and we will do the same this year as we prepare to cut non-instructional budgets. We will accomplish our goals by streamlining academic and non-instructional programs, sizing down where necessary, and preserving programs and services in essential areas. I'm encouraged by the comments I have heard often from our Finance Vice President Rick Straka and from many of my presidential colleagues that we are far ahead of most Minnesota institutions in preparing for the 2012 state revenue shortfall. Shared governance, forward-thinking ideas, good planning, transparency and collaborative leadership involving all members of our university family – students, faculty and staff are coming together to help us meet the economic challenges of the "new normal". We are the model university in Minnesota. Others are looking to us for guidance and learning from our budget reduction approach.

A significant part of our process, and part of what's drawing admiration from around the state, was the open debate and discussion regarding these proposed cuts. As we did last year, this year we will again involve the entire University community in the review process. This is how we achieve openness and transparency, and I am committed to it.

The discussions will not be easy. The decisions will not be easy. The process will not be easy. And, I openly acknowledge that much more work lies ahead. In adjusting to the "new normal" we must be creative and search for new funding sources to sustain our institution.

Yet, Minnesota State University, Mankato remains strong as we strive to protect our standards of excellence. We are the sum of committed, thoughtful, hard-working people, including every one of you. So in the midst of economic uncertainty, I can assure you that our University will continue to move forward with bold ideas, new initiatives and exciting innovations to enhance our educational mission. Together, we will excel as one of the emerging dynamic, comprehensive and doctoral universities in this country.

And, I know that we will excel because of all that we achieved during the past year. For example:

Under the leadership of Vice President Doug Mayo, the University Advancement division reorganized to focus more aggressively on gifts of $10,000 and above and the results show this focus: Nearly $9.0 million from 12,200 individual donors was received in FY2010 – one of our highest totals ever. This includes 3 gifts of $1 million or more, an all-time Parent's Drive record of nearly $50,000 and an all-time Campus Drive record of more than $733,200. Congratulations to women's basketball coach Pam Gohl who chaired the drive and especially to all of you who contributed. Times are tight and your generous gifts speak volumes about your personal commitments of the value of our work. I humbly thank you.

The Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal recently ranked our Alumni Association number one by membership among alumni associations in Minnesota. We're continuing to engage more and more alumni through a new online community and through new and different events on campus, in the Twin Cities, and around the country. We thank our innovative and passionate alumni supporters and leaders.

Three capital projects are nearing completion. The final phase of the huge Trafton Science Center renovation is almost finished. With the construction of Ford Hall and the remodeling and renovation of Trafton, this project has reached $58.4 million. The Outdoor Recreation project will be completed in September. Using student activity fees and other funding, we've built four new softball fields, a new outdoor track with a soccer infield, along with other facilities, and corrected safety hazards on the football field at Blakeslee Stadium. The Center of Renewable Energy, located near Wiecking Center, will be completed in September and celebrated with a grand opening on September 23rd. And, watch this fall as we unveil a new campus entrance that is going to be striking.

The Career Development Center partnered with the Office of Disability Services to co-sponsor an on-campus recruiting visit by the U.S. Department of Labor's Workforce Recruitment Program which offers internships for college students with disabilities. Over 4,600 students and alumni participated in the CDC's on and off campus career events.

The Ostrander Auditorium remodeling was completed and nationally recognized on the cover of Sound Communications magazine. The article highlights the design which allows for multi-purpose uses.

Remodeling continued on the McElroy Residence Hall and the Schematic Design and Design Development phases of the 2012 new residence hall were completed. With increased student demand for residence hall spaces this fall, remodeling of additional wings has been delayed.

Two new completely online offerings were added in University Extended Education within the Strategic Business, Education, and Regional Partnerships division. This brings our total to 21 completely online programs (17 programs and 4 licensure options). I will say more about online education later in my speech today. Additionally, in University Extended Education we have 12 graduate program options available at 7700 France and 8 bachelor level options. And, we now have an established program to provide co-op opportunities for students in addition to the internship program.

As you walk around campus, you have noticed the work of the IT division in expanding the number of kiosks. Students seem to love these as a quick way to check their e-mail or print an assignment between classes. What is not visible is the re-engineering work that IT completed on many business processes – the University Stores supply ordering, parking permit and citation system, and projects for both the Registrar's office and Student Financial Services that have made their work more efficient.

The total percentage of ethnic minority students increased to 8.7% of student population (Fall 2009) surpassing our goal of 8.5%. Admitted applications for fall 2010 are up 13%. Under the leadership of Dean Henry Morris the new College Access Program model was implemented successfully. And, during the summer, Institutional Diversity worked with the largest College Access Program class since the inception of the program and held many ethnic and summer bridge programs.

A recent report issued by the Office of the Chancellor indicated that 82% of Minnesota State Mankato employees participated in at least one professional development activity. Congratulations to our Human Resources Office, the Professional Development Committee, and our Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning who consistently provide many excellent development opportunities for us during the year.

I want to congratulate the faculty and staff who wrote grants and developed contracts last year – and the staff who supported your efforts. Last year's numbers are in and they are amazing – We received $15.2 million in grants and contracts in FY10—this is an increase of 171% over FY09 and $7 million more than any previous year's total. External funding through contracts alone increased from $1.8 million in FY09 to $7 million in FY10. Among the grants received was a $6.25 million grant from the Bush Foundation for teacher preparation innovation and transformation. Faculty in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology were awarded grants in excess $6 million. Congratulations!!

Graduate enrollment is near an all-time high with over 1900 graduate students enrolled in the fall of 2009, which has resulted in a good ratio between undergraduate and graduate students. This is the largest graduate school enrollment since the change to a semester system several years ago.

The Honors program enjoyed a successful first year after a brief hiatus, enrolling 29 enthusiastic and talented students last year. We expect to double that number this fall.

Employees working the Student Financial Services areas were exceptionally busy last year. A total of $113.5 million in student aid and scholarships was awarded to 13,743 students – and over $80 million was collected in tuition revenues by our accounts receivable staff—that's a collection rate of over 99%. Staff working the Campus Hub handled almost 75,600 calls last year—an average of about 290 per work day.

We were ranked among the top quartile of the nation's four-year public and private colleges by Forbes magazine. We were one of four Minnesota public universities on the list, and the highest-ranking institution in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Each year, I report that the University received recognition from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. This year is no exception. We received awards for Excellence in Financial Management and Excellence in Facilities Management. Our new partnership with Northeast Higher Education District for bringing an innovative and unique engineering program to the Iron Range was recognized, as was our Student Health Services for innovative partnering and collaboration for the Fall 2009 H1N1 immunization initiative. Eight employees in the IT division were recognized for innovative, useful new software, systems and trainings programs and an administrator was recognized for achievement and the Human Resources All Star Award was given to a Minnesota State Mankato employee.

Our FY2009 Audit was clean with no materials findings. When sharing this information, Vice President Straka credits the excellent work of the Business Services staff but also recognizes that they receive outstanding support from departments and employees. We are ending FY10 with a budget surplus and have a balanced budget for FY11.

KMSU 89.7 received a $238,500 legislative grant to produce new programming and events that enrich and promote Minnesota art and cultural heritage.

Our students received recognition also…a nursing doctoral graduate won first place in the poster competition at the American Colleges of Nurse Practitioner conference.

One of our ROTC cadets finished second out of 4,700 cadets nationally—the highest of any cadet in our program since its inception in 1981.

The Concert Choir was one of five selected in blind auditions to perform in the Star of the North Festival Concert Series.

For the second time in three years, a Theatre and Dance student won the prestigious Region V Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship nomination to compete at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

A student team won the Council on Undergraduate Research's 2010 Posters on the Hill competition in Washington, D. C.—one of 75 recognized in this year's contest.

Our athletic teams finished fourth in the 2009-2010 national Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standing—the fourth top 4 or better finish in as many years. We won several Northern Sun championships and several teams and individuals earned national recognition.

And, a Mars robot vehicle designed by two students won second place in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers International student design competition.

Did you notice how many times I said "national" in recognizing the honors that our students earn? Our new "stories" are more and more on a national and international level of competition.

And the success of our students is because of the learning that occurs in the classroom and other opportunities provided by faculty and staff that enrich the total experience that is Minnesota State Mankato. It is because of all of you helping develop the passion within our students.

Well, I could go on and on elaborating about your accomplishments of the past year, but I know if I took an audience poll right now, you'd probably like me to move along with my address. Just let me say that we will continue to build on a long-lasting legacy of excellence, one that has stood the test of time and change throughout our transitions from a normal school to a doctoral university.

Congratulations to everyone on the accomplishments during the past year!

Our accomplishments are many, yet so are our challenges. External pressures will continue to grow due to economic and workforce needs. One of these pressures will be to graduate more students. In the November 2009 issue of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities publication, it was reported that data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that college enrollment is projected to increase nationally 13 percent by 2018. Contrast this information with other projections indicating two and four-year degree production will grow by 25 percent and 19 percent respectively. This projection is further highlighted by a national trend we are experiencing today involving increased enrollment of emerging populations during the next ten years in the U.S.; 38 percent increase in Hispanic students, 26 percent increase in black students, and only 4 percent increase among white students.

Equally important is that national college graduation rates have not been encouraging among these groups with 49 percent for Hispanics, 42 percent for blacks and 60 percent graduation for whites.

No longer will our publics be satisfied with high retention rates on the front end, but are demanding institutions to increase their graduation rates. While Minnesota State's freshmen to sophomore retention rates are among the highest in the System, our graduation rates need significant improvement. We must all work together to develop a plan that results in helping our students reach graduation. Our current 6-year graduation rate is about 51%. This compares with St. Cloud at about 49%, but is below the University of Minnesota at 66%. I think we can do better. Our future depends on it.

Institutions around the country are changing and this is no different for Minnesota State Mankato. As a long-standing Minnesota public university, we have focused for more than a century on serving, for the most part, new high school graduates. This pattern is already changing, and we will continue to see enrollment shifts in the future. During our university leadership retreat last week, Tom Gillaspy, Minnesota State Demographer, and Tom Stinson, Minnesota State Economist, shared the impact that changing demographics in Minnesota will have on higher education. We need to fully understand that the influx of new students will consist of fewer and fewer new entering high school graduates and more non-traditional adult students. We should expect to enroll significantly more underrepresented populations, including Hispanic, Black, new immigrant and socially disadvantaged students.

I am worried that underrepresented populations will suffer as a result of the changing economic conditions and affordability of higher education at a time when there are huge demographic shifts and growth in these populations. We must develop a comprehensive plan to address these anticipated changes. And, as we gear up to increase our recruitment efforts we also need to fully prepare to serve these new student populations. They are an important part of our future in building a strong Minnesota.

The picture has changed over the years for international students coming to the United States. According to a recent study conducted by a Harvard University economist, in 1970, 29 percent of the world's college students were enrolled in the United States, which had 6 percent of the world's population at the time. In contrast, by 2006 the U.S. enrolled only 12 percent of the world's students, a decline of 17 percent. Countries such as China, India, South Korea and others have invested heavily in their own higher education systems. China, for example, will accomplish its Project 211 goals initiated in the 90s, to develop 100 world class universities by the year 2011.

While other universities across the country and in Minnesota have been engaged in recruiting international students for some time, we have only recently expanded our efforts in this area. We are proud to enroll approximately 600 international students from 77 different countries. While most of these students haven't been actively recruited, it is important today to step up our efforts to selectively recruit foreign students.

Another important trend is the move toward incorporating increased utilization of online teaching to serve our changing populations wherever they are located. I am pleased to see our faculty building online teaching into their classes, but we still have a long way to go. We generate fewer online credit hours than most of our peer Minnesota public universities. Student expectations are shifting, and the possibilities are tremendous in this area. Innovations in technology are improving all the time and changing the way students learn and likewise changing the way professors teach. In some ways our future is literally dependent on how successful we are in meeting the needs of off-campus students through a variety of extended learning delivery options. By doing so we will keep our core campus strong.

And, while the debate continues about how best to use technology in higher education, increasing numbers of traditional and non-traditional students are demanding a quality education that is convenient, flexible and affordable. Delivering education through distance learning, online learning and hybrid teaching models via cohort groups is not a new concept and has been tested for decades with mixed results being reported. More recent research findings are convincing in demonstrating that effective learning depends largely on delivery models. Not all academic programs though lend themselves to delivery via these new technologies. Many faculty and administrators acknowledge that it is not an equivalent, nor ideal substitute for traditional classroom experiences. For-profit institutions, such as Phoenix, Globe and Capella have clearly demonstrated there is a growing segment of the population that will select their offerings over less expensive public colleges and universities for reasons of convenience. And, frankly institutions such as Capella University, while acknowledging some of their shortcomings, are committed to improving their online education.

Regardless of how fast we move further toward online learning, it is clear that it is here to stay and new technologies will continue to have a positive impact on our teaching and the way students learn. We all want our graduates to be equipped to compete in today's technological world that is immersed in global collaborations. Use of technology in the classroom, wherever that might be, will become a core differentiator in attracting students and corporate partners. Almost two-thirds (63%) of survey respondents from academia say that their institutions offer online courses. This appears to be the national trend as several of our most prestigious American institutions are committing to online learning as one of their delivery models. And, the same appears to be true in universities around the world.

Minnesota State Mankato has been on the cutting edge of technology and ranked by national groups as being among the top institutions utilizing technology. Today, I believe others have caught up to and surpassed us. Yes, our faculty today is much more engaged in the use of technology, and I am pleased about that. However, it is time for us to rethink our commitment to online learning and other technologies. It is time to review our IT division goals and strategic directions and engage our community in stepped-up conversations about our technological needs in the classroom.

Finally, we have been focusing on enrollment management for the last several years, and now it is time to move forward very aggressively with proven strategies that provide the outcomes we need. This calls for the cooperation of everyone on campus. It doesn't matter how effective our admissions staff is in bringing students to campus, students often decide which institution to attend based upon their first impressions. We all influence those impressions.

And, as I have previously noted, we will no longer be evaluated primarily on retention figures for the first two years. Decision-makers will be concentrating on graduation rates. In several states graduation rates will be the measure of success of an institution. For instance, Indiana adopted a performance-based funding model and allocates 15 percent of core state funding based on graduation rates. Other states are working on creating incentives to accomplish the same objectives.

During this year, we will also want to have important discussions regarding other topics such as our Center of Excellence for Engineering and Manufacturing. We will also want to explore developing several models for a three-year degree. As you probably know, our 7700 France is succeeding and we're looking at the possibility of another site in the metropolitan area. We all understand the importance for the University to develop strong partnerships that lead to learning opportunities for our academic programs and students.

In summary, I have mentioned today only a few of the areas I believe must be addressed due to the pressures and issues facing Minnesota State Mankato. However, changing demographics, enrollment management, graduation expectations, distance and online learning and the need to develop a new technology plan will continue to be high on our list of objectives and are easily cross-walked with our current strategic priorities, not to mention our previous and ongoing strategic plan.

Last year, I laid out for you the areas we would develop in our new strategic plan. And, we have successfully moved through the first stage of planning. As a reminder, our new priorities are:

  • We will plan and build the Campus of the Future
  • We will think and act like a Doctoral Institution
  • We will grow University Extended Education
  • We will promote Global Solutions
  • We will embody Quality and Excellence in all that we do

We have done some outstanding planning in identifying specific goals and measurements in these areas over the past year thanks to the amazing effort and hard work by the individual strategic planning task forces. Following input from the bargaining units, students and community members this fall, we will launch these important initiatives. I am convinced they will have a profound and lasting impact on our University for years ahead, and they come at a time when they are most critical to our future.

I am interested in having our task forces cross-walk each new priority with the others to determine the interaction and connections between them so we can look for ways to maximize our efforts with each priority. I believe these new priorities naturally overlap and interact to some extent and have some degree of interdependence. For instance, our doctoral and graduate education is focused in the applied area for the most part and fits like a glove when we combine it with our global solutions goals. Of course, every priority includes the goal of embodying quality and excellence. And, you have already heard me mention the importance of growing extended learning and implementing new instructional technologies. This priority relates to all of the above including the campus of the future. Designing and planning the campus of the future embodies the classroom, the environment, aesthetics, energy efficiency, modern technologies and new teaching and research laboratories that promote collaboration and global solutions, as well as a beautiful, safe, welcoming campus and much more.

All of our priorities have similar and unique interconnections. Therefore, before moving forward with our implementation plans, I ask that our committees discuss how they relate to each other and in so doing, arrive at the most efficient, innovative and powerful solutions possible. It's time to move outside the boundaries set by each priority and cross-walk the ideas and concepts into a plan that shows the relevance, the interdependence and the efficiencies of working together to achieve expected outcomes.

The "cross walks" are wide….they will accommodate our goals and the goals of the Minnesota State College and Universities. Cross-walking a campus involves looking at all the individual pieces and then bringing them together as a whole Рsomething we in higher education are not always used to doing. However, when we analyze these pieces and look for ways to improve, and then we connect and criss-cross all of our efforts, we will uncover some amazing connections and overlap. For example, we all are involved in enrollment management to some degree; however, we miss many opportunities to positively influence our outcomes if we do not come together and look at the total picture.

In these cross walks we will find big ideas meeting real world thinking. And, we will find more stories to share that will embrace our goals and our potential.

We are an institution that embraces challenges together; a university that works together to find solutions.

This is who we are, and it is because of you and all that you bring to your work that our students graduate and go on to lead successful lives contributing to the well-being of our society.

Higher education has changed dramatically during the last several years. We are engaged with business, industry, and government in developing graduates who are able to adapt to a changing world. Each of our individual colleges has an advisory board composed of business leaders and faculty. These boards are instrumental in keeping the University focused on what they are needing from us. Many of our students are engaged in research projects sponsored by industry; many are benefiting from internship and co-op experiences where the student is actively involved in the workforce. Many employers tell me that while a good solid knowledge base is essential, what they really need are graduates who can think, solve problems, and lead by making decisions. The employers are willing to train the employee on the basics of the company—that's a learnable "on-the-job" skill. But they continually emphasis the need for graduates who have been taught to be analytical thinkers.

We are also engaged with business and industry in providing workforce development programs. By this I mean degree completion programs and specific certificate programs. These are generally short, unique programs leading to a specific skill set. Additionally, we are exploring a modeling and simulation center. In this example, a business will come to us with a problem and our students and faculty will help find a solution through the use of modeling.

We also know that the classroom lecture model is only one of several new options available to us to deliver education. On-line learning allows students basically world-wide to take courses or complete programs from our University. We are also working on redesigning our courses so that they are delivered as efficiently as possible. The use of technology, including telepresence, opens up many opportunities for bold, initiatives.