The noted theologian and futurist Leonard Sweet once wrote that, "The future is not something we enter. The future is something we create." In many respects, colleges and universities are about the future. We educate young adults who are preparing for their future. We educate older adults who return to the University in order to refocus or expand their future. And we partner with our region and the Commonwealth to create stronger communities and a brighter future for all.
As we gather to begin the new academic year, our capacity to support the future of both our students and our community has never been greater.
This fall we expect to again welcome the largest enrollment in our history. Current projections are that we will be well over 14,000 students with a total enrollment increase of about 2%. FTE will increase about 2.5%. Within these totals, we project a 1-2% increase in undergraduate enrollment, a nearly 10% increase in graduate enrollments, and an 11% increase in law students. We also anticipate a 5% decrease in the number of under-prepared students and a 7.4% increase in the number of seniors, which bodes well for retention and graduation rates. We"ll see continued growth in the number of our African-American and Latino students. However, we'll have a smaller number of international student enrollments due to national security concerns and visa restrictions.
Since its founding in 1968, NKU has been virtually an open admissions university. This was necessary because we functioned as both the community college and the four-year university and it was important for us to assure broad access to postsecondary education for our local population. The unfortunate consequence was that, too often, students enrolled in the University lacking the preparation needed for academic success.
Today, much has changed. The creation of Gateway Community and Technical College has expanded postsecondary opportunity for residents of our region, which allows NKU to focus more directly on what our region wants and needs us to become. NKU and Gateway are working together to ensure that movement between our two institutions is seamless and that we're working in complimentary ways to support the educational needs of our region.
At their July meeting, the Board of Regents approved new admission standards that will be implemented over two years beginning in the fall of 2005. Much has been written about these new standards. I've been asked whether the University is backing away from its commitment to access. My answer is an unequivocal, "No." We remain as committed to access today as we have been in the past. However, we're also committed to the success of our students and we will no longer admit students who, in our judgment, stand very little chance of succeeding at the University. We're meeting with area P-12 leaders to make sure that high schools have time to prepare for these new standards. We're also creating the new NKU Academy, which will provide a five-week summer program for students who are not admissible without strengthening their preparation in areas that relate to academic success. In short, we believe that these new standards will help ensure that students who enter the University have the preparation needed for success.
In order to successfully implement these new admission standards, several challenges must be met. While NKU is becoming the first choice for many of the region's best-prepared high school students, our recruitment and marketing strategies must be enhanced to ensure that we are competing effectively for well-prepared students. We must make a special effort to ensure that the diversity of our student body is not adversely impacted. We must increase our number of transfer and graduate students. We must ensure that we are making maximum use of our student financial aid. And we must make sure that student retention is the responsibility of every faculty and staff member on this campus. The good news is that we are seeing demonstrable progress in each of these areas.
Much has been done in recent years to enhance student success. Our first-year programs continue to expand, extracurricular opportunities have increased, our advising systems have been strengthened, and we have early warning programs for students who may be having academic difficulty. Still, our retention and graduation rates are among the lowest in the state and we must do better. It is not unusual for metropolitan universities to have lower retention and graduation rates than other more residential campuses. In fact, our retention rates compare relatively well with our benchmark institutions.
Metropolitan universities tend to be more open in their admissions, have more commuter, part-time, and non-traditional students, and have a larger percentage of students working full-or part-time. Metropolitan university students often take longer to graduate because pursuing their degree competes with other adult responsibilities. They may not drop out, but they frequently "stop out" rather than going straight through to graduation. Still, our retention and graduation rates must improve! This year, we will ask the campus to focus its attention on steps that we can take to strengthen student success. This will be our number one priority.
This past year the University took important steps to both protect and enhance the quality and availability of our academic programs in the face of major state budget reductions. At a time when many universities have dealt with financial stress by greatly increasing class sizes and relying more heavily on low-cost part-time faculty, we have preserved our small class sizes, hired more full-time faculty, expanded the number of undergraduate students involved in research and scholarly activities, and increased the number of undergraduate and graduate programs in response to public demand.
Evidence of academic quality abounds. NKU is, today, the first choice for an increasing number of the area's best-prepared students. On a national survey of student satisfaction, our graduates scored significantly higher than students from other universities, particularly with reference to quality of instruction, faculty knowledge in their fields, and academic advising. Our graduates continue to be admitted to some of the nation's most prestigious graduate and professional programs. This year, the Chase College of Law achieved bar passage rates that ranked at the top among Kentucky law schools and among the top when compared to schools in Ohio. Our faculty members continue to generate external research funding. This past year, we received a $2.4M National Institutes of Health grant to help build our strength in molecular biology and neuroscience.
The breadth of our academic offerings continues to expand as well. This past year, we saw the College of Professional Studies launch two new online degree programs in Organizational Leadership and the Master of Science in Nursing. The Department of Communications began a new undergraduate degree in Public Relations.
The Weekend Business Program began offering the business undergraduate program in a Friday/Saturday/Sunday format and had 276 students enrolled this past spring.
The College of Business launched two new degree programs in Sports Business and Business Administration with an emphasis in general business.
Master's degree programs were added in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Liberal Studies.
No single event has been more significant to the quality and availability of our academic programs than the Board of Regents recent approval of the Academic Quality and Capacity Initiative. This new initiative will allocate over $4.5M in recurring funds to enhance and expand academic programs over the next two years. These funds will add more full-time tenure track faculty and will allow us to create new academic programs in education, information science, public policy, healthcare, business, and professional and applied ethics. They will also allow us to further strengthen academic advising, enhance library support, and expand our community engagement. In short, these funds will make it possible to sustain our academic momentum and protect our academic quality, even while confronting difficult budgetary challenges.
On of the University's most important goals has been to create a richly diverse and multi-cultural environment, not simply as an end in itself but because diversity enhances learning. Over the past several years, we've made significant progress toward this goal. We begin this year with several new African-American tenure track faculty and we’re in the process of studying the creation of an African studies concentration within International Studies. With the help of Procter & Gamble, we've launched the new Latino and Multi-Cultural Center that will help integrate Latino's and other international immigrants into higher education. The partnership between the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and our Institute for Freedom Studies continues to expand. And we have established a rich tradition of speakers from throughout the nation who help deepen our cross-cultural understanding. This past year, we saw a 42% increase in the number of our domestic students who studied abroad. All of this suggests that we are becoming a more diverse and culturally sensitive campus at a time when cultural sensitivity and understanding is so very important.
In the area of outreach and public engagement, NKU continues to receive national recognition for its work on behalf of our region and its communities. Two years ago, a national study identified NKU among six comprehensive universities that were involved in cutting-edge work related to community engagement. This spring, the University was selected among four universities to participate in a national project designed to demonstrate best practice in community engagement or what is sometimes referred to as the "stewardship of place." Sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, this project is drawing national attention in its effort to strengthen community engagement among the more than 400 comprehensive universities located throughout the nation.
Let me give you some examples of what our University is doing to support our community:
While our public engagement efforts continue to expand, there are challenges that require a public policy response. Universities like NKU are funded by the state to teach students. The non-instructional work that we do to help address regional challenges is, in many respects, a campus cost center in that few of our community clients can afford the full cost of our programs and services. If Kentucky wants its comprehensive universities to be more actively involved in addressing the challenges that confront their regions, there must be public policy and resource streams that support this involvement. With leadership from NKU, this past year the Council on Postsecondary Education proposed the creation of a Regional Stewardship Trust Fund that would provide funding to support university involvement in addressing regional concerns. Governor Fletcher has indicated his strong support for this initiative and, if enacted, it would be the first such policy initiative in the nation. Once again, Kentucky has the opportunity to lead!
Great strides were made this year in advancing the quality of our campus experience. Student Affairs has been working closely with Academic Affairs to develop new student retention strategies.
Planning for the new student union is well underway. The funding stream is in place and we hope to break ground for this new $34M facility in the not too distant future.
We continue to have strong bi-partisan support in Frankfort for the construction of our new Special Events Center. The Governor has assured me that it remains at the top of his list of capital construction priorities and he's working within the current spending restrictions to try and get us planning money so that construction is not delayed.
Our residence halls will be fully occupied this year and the new Albright Fitness Center is completed.
I also want to note that the Early Childhood Center received a three star rating from the Commonwealth. It was one of only eighteen such centers in the seven-county region to receive this high rating.
NKU had another banner year in intercollegiate athletics. Nine of our thirteen teams participated in NCAA championship tournaments. NKU ranked tenth nationally among Division II schools in the US Sports Academy Director's Cup competition. After a national search, Dave Bezold was appointed men's head basketball coach. For the upcoming season, Dave has built a modest schedule that includes Ohio State, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Kentucky to name but three!
On the assumption that we'll receive approval for our new Special Events Center, we'll focus this year on whether we should move from NCAA Division II to Division I. NKU is today one of the largest and most successful schools in Division II. All of the other Kentucky comprehensive universities, with the exception of Kentucky State, are Division I. A move to Division I could increase public support and create some natural rivalries for us both in Kentucky and in the Tri-State. Two key elements must be carefully considered: cost and league affiliation. To be honest, this decision is about more than athletics. A move to Division I would have to be justified in terms of an overall strategy to take the entire University to the next level of its development. Finding a conference comprised of institutions that we consider aspirational is a key consideration. So is a funding strategy that is realistic and does not do harm to our core educational enterprise. Finally, we will need to be convinced that we can be competitive at the Division I level without compromising our integrity. I approach this question with an open mind. The board and I will look at the advantages and disadvantages from the perspective of the entire campus, not simply athletics, and we will consult broadly with the campus and the community before any final decision is reached.
Much has been done this past year to enhance our campus facilities, which contribute so directly to our overall academic environment.
Improvements have been made in Old Science (We've got to get a new name!). BEP 200 has been renovated and is now the Eva G. Farris Auditorium. The new parking facility will add 680 spaces when completed later this fall. I hope that you've had a chance to see the landscaping along Nunn Drive. I know that I say this every year but the campus has never been more beautiful! A special thanks to all of the men and women who work so hard to make our campus clean and beautiful both inside and out. You do a great job!
Thanks to the leadership of Senator Mitch McConnell and generous support from Ralph Haile, U. S. Bank Foundation, we'll soon add a new $1.2M digital science classroom in the Natural Science Center. This new facility will function not only as a planetarium but also as a digital learning environment to instruct students, pre-school through college, in aspects of the physical and biological sciences. Think of it as our own instructional IMAX!
Thanks to Senator Jim Bunning, planning is underway to construct a new connector road that will link I-275 at our Three Mile entrance to the AA Highway. This connector will improve campus access and redirect traffic from the campus core to the perimeter.
I also want to thank Congressman Ken Lucas for once again providing federal support for the Urban Learning Center. This program, which is a partnership between Thomas More College, Gateway, NKU, the Covington Public Schools, and Forward Quest, provides educational access for many who would otherwise be left behind. Ken Lucas has been instrumental in assuring that the Center continues to expand its presence and we are deeply appreciative. As Congressman Lucas winds down his service in Washington, we want to thank him for his support of the University. From all of us at NKU, thank you, Ken!
Looking ahead to this year, one of the most dramatic campus improvements will be the redesign of the lake area. Thanks to a $1M gift from Fidelity Investments, combined with a $500K matching gift from a private donor, the lake will be transformed with waterfalls, bridges, and walkways. We also have a $250K matching gift commitment to build an amphitheater on the berm next to the Fine Arts Center.
We continue to push Frankfort for funding related to the renovation of Landrum Academic Center and Old Science as well as additional classroom and office space for the campus. Enrollment growth this year and in the future is being limited because we've run out of space to put additional students, faculty, and staff. Nevertheless, we are making great progress in improving our campus facilities both inside and out.
Private support for the campus continues to grow in spite of a national slow-down in private giving due to both economic and political uncertainties. The big news is that NKU's $40M comprehensive campaign now stands at $44M, a year ahead of our target completion. I want to congratulate our development staff and our entire campus community for this major achievement. I want to also thank our donors who believe in us and in the important role that we play in assuring a bright future for our students and the region. Finally, a special thanks to the NKU Foundation and its leadership for the excellent stewardship of our private funds and the strong partnership that exists between the Foundation and the University
The private support that we've received has had a transformative impact on many aspects of our campus. Endowed chairs and professorships have helped us recruit outstanding faculty. Scholarship support has helped us to recruit and retain outstanding students and has made it possible for us to keep the campus door open for many students who cannot afford to pay the full cost of their education. Private support has allowed us to develop new academic programs and summer enrichment programs for P-12 students and teachers. And private support has strengthened faculty development and improved campus facilities in a way that enhance teaching and learning.
Once our campaign is officially completed, we will move into a series of mini-campaigns designed to target areas of special campus need. Private support will continue to be a high priority for the campus and the prospects remain bright.
As we gather here today, the state budget picture remains uncertain. However, the University is strongly positioned in both the House and the Senate and Governor Fletcher continues to express, both publicly and privately, his commitment to correct our historic under-funding as well as our facilities deficit. Our legislative caucus has been strongly supportive of our campus priorities and they've been tenacious in their advocacy. We've also received strong support from the region's education, community, and business leaders. Our region is coming of age in our advocacy at both the state and federal level. We're better organized, more united, and more strategic in our advocacy. The simple fact is that Kentucky's economic future will depend on the continued economic growth of northern Kentucky. The region's continued economic growth will, in turn, depend heavily on NKU's capacity to support that growth in a variety of ways. Equitable funding for the University is an investment in the future of both the region and the Commonwealth.
While we're on the subject of budgets, I want to thank our entire campus for the sacrifices you made last year so that we could continue to advance our mission while absorbing a nearly 9% reduction in our state support. Through creativity, discipline, and hard work, we reallocated over $2M from our existing budget in order to protect our core mission and make investments where necessary. This was not easy, but we did it and we are stronger because of it. This campus doesn't whine or wring its hands. We assess our circumstances, examine our options, and do what needs to be done. I don't know what this year will bring but I know this: We confronted a major financial challenge last year and, through wit and will, we sustained our momentum. I hope we aren't faced with similar challenges this year but, if we are, we'll get through it. I have no doubt!
Among the many challenges that we'll be addressing this year, five stand out in particular:
First, we must focus our collective attention on improving student retention and graduation rates. Earlier this week, a retreat was held involving the vice presidents, deans, and selected staff to explore steps that we can take to increase student success. More conversations will follow. What's clear is that improving retention and graduation rates requires commitment from the entire campus. We should set ambitious goals for student success and we should hold ourselves accountable.
Second, this will be a critical year in the implementation of our new admissions standards. Our enrollment management team is formulating a comprehensive enrollment plan, but its success will require full participation by all faculty and staff. These new standards represent a major step forward in our efforts to ensure that students who attend NKU are prepared to succeed. If we were to apply the new standards to last year's entering class, approximately 240 students would not be accepted. Our challenge is to ensure that, through more effective approaches to both recruitment and retention, we're able to at least maintain current enrollment levels.
Third, Vice President Gail Wells will lead a process to address the alignment of faculty incentives and rewards with the full breadth of the University's teaching, scholarship, and public engagement mission. Our goal is excellence in every dimension of our mission and this cannot be accomplished without the strong alignment of our faculty and unit level incentives and rewards. On many American campuses, there is often a virtual disconnect between what the campus says it values and what is, in fact, rewarded at the department and college level. If student success, quality instruction, cutting-edge scholarship, and community engagement, are qualities that define our campus, we need to make sure that every element of the campus is aligned to support those outcomes.
Fourth, we'll look carefully at whether it makes sense to reorganize elements of our academic structure, particularly related to the information sciences. How a university organizes knowledge should not be immutable. Form should always follow function. It's time for us to consider whether a new configuration of our information sciences might better position us to serve the needs of both our students and our community.
Fifth, we'll begin a three-year University-wide effort to implement new administrative systems designed to improve administrative effectiveness, enhance academic quality, and strengthen our service to students. This systems replacement process, titled ERP, will impact every office and will make us a more efficient and effective organization. It will be a massive undertaking that will require us to think anew about how we go about our work. It will also require us to maintain our sense of humor!
I close my comments where I began. Northern Kentucky University was founded, not as an end in itself, but to enable our students and our region to create their own future, not simply enter a future that's been created for them. We have an obligation to listen to the aspirations of those whom we serve and to support those aspirations with the finest academic programs and services that we can produce. However, ours is not simply a market driven enterprise. There are times when we must be prepared to offer both our students and our community the advanced learning that we, in our best judgment, believe they need-even if that need is not readily apparent.
We know from research that most students come to the university to prepare for a career. There's nothing wrong with this. Indeed, preparing for a career should be an important part of a university education. However, preparing for a career is not enough. Along the way, our students need to develop ways of understanding the complex world in which they live. They need to develop ways of making sense of the complex issues that our world confronts. They need to have the capacity to discriminate truth from orthodoxy and ideology. And they must understand the importance of advancing the common good as well as their own individual good. In the words of author Douglas Smith, they must find the importance of "we" in the age of "me." Our survival as a nation and a planet depends upon it!
Likewise, it's our obligation to help our community deepen its understanding of the forces that are shaping its future, the consequences of complex choices, and the importance of civic participation as the foundation of a free society. This is what it means to be stewards of the future! Career preparation is not enough. More is required and we must provide it.
This summer, a recent NKU graduate said something to me that I've not forgotten. Reflecting on her NKU experience, she said, "NKU helped me believe in myself. I had no idea what I had in me. I had no idea what I could accomplish. And I had no idea what I didn't know. NKU opened the world for me. It gave me new perspectives and understandings. It also gave me confidence that I could dream of a future and achieve it." That's what we're about! We help create bright futures!
Best wishes for a most productive and satisfying year. Thank you for all that you do to support our University, its students, and the community. Now, its time to get to work!