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NSCS Chancellor Stan Carpenter: State of the System Address

 

(transcript of Chancellor Carpenter's address to the Wayne State College community Aug. 21, 2009)

 

Good morning everyone. I am happy to be here as you get ready for a new school year.  Doesn’t the campus look great? The commons area and the streets contribute beautifully to the landscape here at Wayne State. As I walked through the campus today and saw a few students milling about, I thought about the journey on which they are embarking.  Some are here as freshmen and others have come back as sophomores, juniors and seniors. For most of these students, the world they are accustomed to is very different from yours or mine. These students have grown up with computers and instant communication. Landline phones are pretty foreign to them as they all – or most – have cell phones. They live on their cell phones, talking, texting, twittering, watching movies, and recording events to send to YouTube or Facebook. This may seem strange to some of us, but we must be ready to teach our students as we find them. And so, what is it that students of 2009 expect? “What is the purpose of education?”  “Why are they here?”  “Why are we here?” “Is what we are doing important?” “What is in store for the future?” These are not just existential questions.

 

Many of us can look back a few years and see how much education has changed…not just for students – but also for faculty – and for staff. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I would love to be able to see into the future. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what the state colleges will look like in the year 2020?  Remember, students who will come to us in 2020 were first-graders in the fall of 2008.

 

I had the opportunity to pose similar questions to the Board of Trustees this past summer at our annual Board retreat. The debate was lively and not everyone agreed on the answers to those questions, but we were able to agree on a few things. For example, we decided we could not think about the future of the state colleges without taking a look at what we have accomplished in the past. We also agreed that it is important to put what is happening at the state colleges in context of what is happening in Nebraska and in the region and beyond. Nothing happens in isolation.

 

So – what has been happening at the state colleges?


Budget and financial matters monopolized a great deal of our time this past year. Whether it was related to negotiations for the collective bargaining agreements, or to the decisions of the Legislature and the Governor, or to the economic turmoil around the country, the state colleges faced serious financial challenges and we will continue to do so into the future. I want to stress, however, that we remain committed to our primary mission of providing access to high quality post-secondary education. Nothing changes the fact that a college education boosts the earning potential for all individuals. Today, higher education is essential for a decent job. Income and improved living standards are increasingly determined by educational attainment.  It is clear that college is not only important but is absolutely essential for success in today’s global economy. As President Obama has stated, “In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite. The countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.” (February 24, 2009).

 

The students and their parents know this, yet there is legitimate concern that access to college is slipping out of reach for the poor and middle class due to cost.  The average cost to attend a public 4 year college in 2007-2008 was nearly $19,000. This is about a 25% increase from the 2004-2005 academic year.  The average annual cost for attendance at the state colleges is about $14,000.  So we remain a bargain and we must continue to get the word out that we provide a high quality education at an affordable price.

 

Most of you, I am sure, know the NSCS received a 1.5% increase in our General Fund Appropriation for each year of the biennium.  Even though we certainly wanted and needed more than that to fund our core needs, it is important to understand what is happening in Nebraska in relation to what is happening in other states around the country.  In California, state support for higher education was cut by 20%.  In Nevada, the governor sought to cut higher-education spending by 36%, but the Legislature intervened by overriding the Governor’s veto and reduced higher education spending by only 15% .  In Iowa and Wisconsin, the reductions were nearly 14%. In Kansas – 12%; Wyoming – 10%; Minnesota – 7.4%. Funding for Missouri was flat – no increase or decrease. In light of the cuts made around the country, our 1.5% increase looks pretty good.

 

I again want to thank Governor Dave Heineman, the Chair of the Appropriations Committee Lavon Heidemann, and the legislature for supporting higher education and the Nebraska State College System during this economic downturn.  I believe this support reflects their understanding of the value we bring to our state and the region.

 

Knowing that our core costs would not be covered by increased appropriations, we began a planning process in October of last year. I want to emphasize that the process was strategic, collaborative, collegial and inclusive.  Not all systems can make this same claim when important budget decisions are being made. Not all colleges in other systems have equal weight or input in the budget planning process. Together, we were able to work through several different and difficult scenarios that took into consideration the many variables related to the budget. The Board of Trustees also made it clear early on that we would not ask our students to pay a double digit tuition increase as they did in the last economic downtown. Thus, to cover the shortfall, it became necessary for each college and the System Office to step up and make changes. These changes included the elimination of some programs, the elimination of vacant positions, layoffs, hiring reviews conducted by me, reductions in operating expenses along, and freezing salaries above $75,000.
 
Even with all that we still needed to raise tuition. The 5% increase we asked our students to pay is near the bottom of the range of institutions around the country. In Minnesota, students saw a 3% increase. In California, they saw a 20% increase.  We must not forget that many of our students are making great sacrifices to attend college. Many are graduating with greater debt than ever before just as it’s more difficult for students to find employment while in college.  Nearly 60% of Americans believe that higher education costs are growing fast or faster than the prices for health care.  The Federal Government has been working to put more money in the hands of needy students attending college. The maximum award for the Federal Pell Grant has been increased from $4850 to $5350 due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Federal Government, now more than ever, is requiring greater transparency and accountability in terms of degrees awarded, costs of attendance, financial aid awarded, time to degree and the like. In the Nebraska State College System and here at Wayne State College, we pride ourselves in being as transparent as possible in what we do.  We must continue to focus our attention on ethical behavior and appropriate business practices.  Internal controls must continue to be reviewed and refined. After all, we are stewards of the public trust as well as the public treasure. If we lose the first, we will surely lose the latter.

In conjunction with efforts of the Federal Government, we, too, have also stepped up to the plate to provide additional assistance to our students.  We developed a program to assist first-time Pell Grant recipient freshmen students enrolling this fall.  The program, called the NSCS Advantage Program, will ensure that Pell Grant recipients who enroll in at least 12 on-campus credit hours will pay no tuition. In addition, the NSCS is participating in the Yellow Ribbon GI Program.  We have joined colleges from around the country in this program. While benefit levels vary from college to college, the NSCS decided that those veterans who qualify will be able to attend our colleges without paying tuition or mandatory fees.

 

Let’s think back to the questions I had posed at the beginning of this address. 

 

What is the purpose of education? Why are they here? Why are we here? Is what we are doing important? What is in store for the future?  Pretty powerful questions.  I have found that in most groups that consider these questions, some consensus is reached. Obviously, students attend college to get an education.  An education that will help make their lives better. An education will help them get a job. A job for which they want to be prepared. And what do we do to help them reach their goals?

We provide a wide variety of academic programs that prepare our students for a wealth of career opportunities.  Students can enroll in programs in education, the health industry, the social sciences, business, medicine, social services, and the arts. I understand that the art and music programs at Wayne recently received accreditation from their national accrediting bodies. Having programs with national recognition not only greatly benefits the students and faculty directly involved with those programs, but also the entire college as I believe quality spreads. An excellent program in one area rubs off on programs in other areas. And there is more great news for Wayne. The RHOP program has expanded to include the physicians’ assistant program, physical therapy, and radiography, which will directly benefit our students. When one looks at the top jobs for 2009 and into the future, medical services, computing, education, energy, and small business ownership are all found in the top ten.  All career opportunities represented by programs at Chadron, Peru, and Wayne.

 

The Nebraska State Colleges continue to provide quality educational opportunities for students who can’t, for whatever reason, come to campus. Online enrollment continues to grow at all three colleges.  Not only is the number of courses offered online increasing, but the number of students enrolling in online courses continues to increase. Last year, we offered more than 700 courses online. The enrollment in online courses is up 14% from last year.  I needed information for another report and I discovered that enrollments in online courses grew 800% from fall 2001 to fall 2008.  I don’t know that we will increase another 800% in the next 7 years, but continued online growth is a must as we look to the year 2020 and beyond.

 

As you already know fewer students are now graduating from high schools in Nebraska. The number of high school graduates will decrease by 1% in Nebraska by 2018-2019, and we already saw a 3% decrease from 2002 to 2008.  Additionally, the demographic makeup of our high school graduates is changing dramatically. Even though Hispanic students graduate from high school at lower rates than other groups, they are projected to account for 20% of Nebraska’s high school graduates in 2018 as compared to 4% in 2003.  Other minorities are projected to increase from 7% to 10% during the same time period. Our outreach to high school students becomes even more vital to their future and to the future of providing an educated workforce for Nebraska. Keep in mind that for every 100 ninth-graders in Nebraska, 90 graduate from high school on time.  Of those 61 enroll directly in college. Of those, approximately 49 are still enrolled the following year. And of those, 24 earn an Associate’s Degree within 3 years or a bachelor’s degree within 6 years. So while we start strong, we limp along to the finish line.  We know we must improve our college going rate and our retention and graduation rates. Not just for the sake of increasing numbers, but to ensure Nebraska’s future. Let’s not forget that education is needed to make democracy work and in nearly all human welfare matters, education improves the human condition.

 

The adult student market will be the fastest growing demographic in higher education. These adult students will pay for convenience and support. 

This last year, I had an opportunity to view the college experience from a unique perspective. I have observed and learned a great deal, just like you learn from your experiences, about what the state colleges can do to improve. I have included some of these observations in my version of a late night Top Ten List:


THE TOP 10 THINGS I LEARNED WHILE SERVING AS PRESIDENT:
10.  The president has a handy parking spot.
9.  A president gets to choose where to sit in the cafeteria…and usually chooses to sit by the person who is trying not to be noticed.
8.  A president gets to attend some great campus events, like jello wrestling.
7.  A president gets his/her own bathroom.
6.  A president gets a certain show of respect – that odd hush that happens when the president   walks into various offices.
5. The president of Peru has the world’s shortest commute to work or to football games.
4.  In the winter, the president of Peru gets to discover just how slick the roads get and just how many hills there are in Peru.
3.  Some presidents get two titles – or a combination of both – I got the Prancellor.
2.  The president at Peru gets to live in the “white house.”

 

Although these are humorous examples of my observations, we must also remember that there are 42 colleges and universities in Nebraska. In 2006, Nebraska held 0.7% of the country’s college enrollment. About 18% of Nebraska’s population holds a bachelor’s degree.  The high school dropout rate is at 10%. All of these present challenges and opportunities for the state colleges. I believe that we can forge ahead and face the challenges head on as we move into the future. We must recognize that change is a good thing because we can’t keep doing things the way we have always done them. We must embrace technology and its role in education – even if it scares us. We must determine the best ways to focus our outreach efforts.  The recession will end, but higher education, especially the state colleges, must continue to develop and refine processes so that we will be able to do more with less. While I firmly believe that Nebraskans and the State of Nebraska will always value higher education, that may not translate into large increases in state support. Resources will always be tight, so, as they say, we must work smarter to provide our students what they need to be successful. And, we must always remember why we are here – we are here for our students. We must recognize the changing students and find ways to meet their needs. I know that everyone in this room understands the importance of what we do!  We are involved in an industry that is vital to the future of Nebraska and the United States of America.

 

So, now for the number 1 thing I learned while being president:
The President always gets to end the meeting – And, this meeting or at least my portion of it has come to an end.

 

Questions?

 

 

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