Board Hears Positive Report on Grad Rates

Published on February 26, 2018

“Intentionality” seemed to be the buzzword at a meeting of the Eastern Kentucky University Board of Regents on Monday, Feb. 26.

It’s the key behind the University’s record-high four- , five- and six-year graduation rates that continue to climb and freshman retention rates that are down only slightly from an all-time high a year ago.

It’s front and center of a pilot Pell Plus proposal, approved by the board, that would boost out-of-state enrollment and diversity by helping qualified out-of-state students with high financial need, specifically from the Cincinnati and southern Florida metro areas, to view EKU as an economically viable choice.

It’s critical to the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan, as presented by Dr. Timothy Forde, vice provost for diversity and chief diversity officer, and approved by the board.

And it certainly describes the approach by the administration and board to dealing strategically with a $21-23 million shortfall, due to cuts in state appropriations and rising pension obligations.

Dr. David McFaddin and Dr. Tanlee Wasson, co-chairs of the University’s Budget Advisory Committee, reported on the committee’s progress in developing recommendations that address the financial challenges facing the University. Strategies included in the committee recommendation currently yield 91 percent of a goal to trim $25 million from the University’s budget, they noted, adding that the committee’s desire is to avoid an “across-the-board” reduction and focus on the long-term health, size and growth of Eastern. Recommendations will be submitted to President Michael Benson on March 9 and to the board before its next meeting on April 6. An implementation team will be appointed by May 1.

“The question is what to do when the time comes to make difficult decisions, and the answer is pretty simple,” said Board Chair Craig Turner. “You just do the right thing.”

For Eastern, Turner said, that means making decisions that reflect current data as well as the University’s mission and vision while retaining a commitment to academic excellence and student success.

“Our intention is for Eastern to be as competitive as possible,” McFaddin said.

In his presentation, Dr. Eugene Palka, vice president for student success, noted that EKU’s freshman retention rate stands at 73.5 percent, down slightly from the 74.4 rate a year ago but well ahead of its rate of 63.03 percent just a decade ago and well above the current national average of approximately 70 percent. Palka went on to share that the University’s four-year graduation rate is 29.98 percent, up from 29.71 percent a year ago and virtually double the rate just seven years ago; its five-year graduation rate is 46.96 percent, up from 45.28 percent last year and 33.22 percent seven years ago; and its six-year graduation rate is 49.27 percent, up from 44.91 percent a year ago and 38.3 percent seven years ago.

Dr. Brett Morris, executive director of enrollment management, said the Pell Plus initiative will change a participating student’s residency status to “in-state” after verification of federal Pell eligibility. During the five-year pilot period for the program, the University will enroll up to 100 non-residents each year. Participating students will be required to commit to sustained engagement on an on-campus activity of the student’s choice and to graduating in four years.

The University’s current Diversity Plan focuses on opportunity, student success and impact.

“Our office focuses on trying to provide students a sense of belonging,” Forde said. “Diversity makes us all better.”

In other business, the board:

·         retained its existing slate of officers: Turner, chair; Alan Long, vice chair; Barry Poynter, treasurer; and Dana Fohl, secretary.

·         gave its approval to move forward with the City of Richmond on a project whereby the University would develop, in partnership with a private developer and operator, a low- to moderate-income assisted living facility in a Tax Incentive Financing (TIF) Local Development Area. The concept is similar to a recent partnership that resulted in the construction of a Scholar House for single parents. The project, which would be the first of its kind in Kentucky and serve as a model for future efforts, would serve at least 100 low-income seniors and would create up to 60 new jobs, including a clinical learning space for 20 students from nursing, occupational therapy, nutrition, recreation and other academic disciplines. It would be built on the south side of campus.

·         gave the go-ahead on a partnership between the University and the Corbin Independent School District to construct a Career and Technology Center on EKU property adjacent to the University’s Corbin campus. The school district has received a $90,000 grant from the Kentucky Department of Education via J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. to plan and implement a regional academy intended to be an all-day learning environment that will include both career and technical education and academic courses, including dual credit.

                 · approved a resolution honoring EKU senior Omar Salinas Chacon, a DACA recipient who at the                       National Collegiate Honors Council conference last fall was named the top Honors student in the                       nation.