University Address warns of tough times ahead

Nick Bohannon/The News

Story by Ashley Traylor, News Editor 

Story by Sabra Jackson, Staff writer

President Bob Davies gave his State of the University Address Tuesday in Wrather Auditorium where he focused on funding issues plaguing postsecondary education in Kentucky.

“In our own state, significant changes are not merely on the horizon, they are on our doorstep,” Davies said.

Those changes, he said are performance funding where outcomes and measures of student attainment are prominent. Coupled with the pension crisis currently in the Commonwealth, the change in funding is creating higher levels of stress and uncertainty among those who work in higher education.

“Additionally, based on the fiscal projections, the state is anticipating a significant budget reduction in the forthcoming legislative session,” Davies said.

With the “new normal” universities are currently facing in higher education, Davies said it is more important than ever to establish priorities and actions for Murray State to focus on.

Enrollment

Davies said the first priority and the most important was enrollment.

“We cannot lose sight of the importance of increasing enrollment,” Davies said. “In these times when state appropriations are continually declining, we must drive our own revenues.”

He focused on the university’s commitment to attracting, admitting and enrolling students, who have the highest possibility of being successful at Murray State in “our rigorous academic programs.”

While the official enrollment numbers have not yet been released, Davies did allude to a decline in enrollment, especially among international students. It is not only an issue at Murray State but for schools all over the U.S.

“In the past, we have relied on international student markets to boost enrollments, especially at the graduate level,” Davies said. “However, these once burgeoning markets are now bypassing the United States in large numbers.”

He said it is important that the university continue to reinforce value and affordability when it comes to the tuition costs. Murray State is the third cheapest in the state when it comes to tuition and fees, lagging behind Kentucky State University and Morehead State University.

“It is imperative that we enforce value and affordability,” Davies said. “This is why we must maintain a tuition model that continues to provide excellent value and return toward our students.”

“This is why we must maintain a tuition model that continues to provide excellent value and to return to our students,” Davies said.

Recruitment

The freshmen class of 2017 was on target to be one of the largest the university has seen recently but only produced slightly less than 2016. The admissions team is implementing a “robust plan” that Davies said will streamline the admissions process.

“So we are the first to contact, first to admit and first to award scholarships to potential students,” Davies said.

One of the priorities under recruitment is to convert admitted students to enrolled students. To excel this plan, the university has adjusted the scholarship offerings to include students with an ACT between 21 and 23, with a GPA of at least 3.0.

In addition to the admissions team recruiting, Davies said he is personally visiting every high school in the 18 counties that Murray State serves as well as many of the adjacent counties and states. He also called upon faculty and staff to assist in the recruiting efforts.

“Each of you are admission ambassadors as well and can assist in this process,” Davies said. “Each of you can talk to prospective students when they visit our campus; each of you can find ways to promote Murray State at our area high schools and community colleges and each of you, in working with potential and current students, have the ability to leave a positive influence that drives enrollment.”

Legislative Session

Davies was “honest and blunt” as he spoke about the upcoming legislative session and the financial strain the unfunded pension system is having on education in Kentucky.

“I am hopeful we could receive some relief for the increased pension costs and our infrastructure needs request has, to this point, been well received,” Davies said. “However, there is a high possibility of a significant reduction in our overall appropriation.”

In the upcoming legislative session, Davies and the Board of Regents will focus to offset the pension costs and fund critical infrastructure needs, like the electrical grid system and steam plant for heating and cooling buildings on campus.

Davies said his final request is additional funding to Murray State’s performance funding. The University receives funding based on its performance in comparison to other institutions in the state.

Fiscally Prepared

“We have several key pressure points that we cannot ignore,” Davies said. The first point he referred to was the pension liability.

“We need to be prepared for our potential costs and inquiries, based on the recommendations of the state budget director, by $4.7 million in the upcoming fiscal year, he said.”

It is expected that there will be a substantial reduction in state funding, totaling in the millions. Add to that, enrollment changes and increased health care, technology and utilities costs, among others, is expected to pack a hard punch to the university’s bottom line.

The lack of anticipated funds has put the university leadership team in what Davies called a challenging and difficult budget year. With that, “tough and arduous decisions” will have to be made in regards to priorities, projects and programs.

“As part of this, we will need to analyze how we provide necessary services and determine whether we need to do so utilizing different and new models,” Davies said.

The administration has asked each of the academic and administrative units to put together a rubric that he said will be utilized as a starting point for the difficult discussions on prioritization and budget setting.

“During this process, we must look for new programs that can be implemented to generate revenues and we must find ways to reduce costs and increase efficiencies,” Davies said.

He said through these difficult times, it is important for the university to stay committed to the four guiding pillars.

“We will continue to focus on our commitment to excellence in all that we do,” Davies said. We will further our experiential learning opportunities. We will remain focused on our vision to be the best student-centered university in America and we must maintain our sense of community.”