At the fall Faculty Meeting in Derryberry Auditorium on Wednesday, Provost Jack Armistead and other administrators welcomed returning and new faculty members with encouraging news and information about the new academic year and budget concerns.
“Our real business is student success,” Armistead said in opening remarks. “We lost almost 32 percent of our state budget and made up for only about half of that through enrollment and tuition increases. Every unit has suffered, and TTU has lost some very good people in the process.
“But the budget is less gloomy this time around, and things in general are looking up, at least by comparison to a year and two years ago,” he said.
Armistead said during this austere period the university accomplished a great deal and that going forward there should be a lot of optimism. He described the university’s most recent success with national rankings, including our ranking as one of the Top 10 “Public Regional Universities” in the South, according to the publisher of U.S.News and World Report, and Payscale.com’s report that TTU is the top public university in Tennessee when it comes to the potential salary graduates can earn when they hit the job market.
Bobby Hodum, executive director of enrollment management, said he was cautiously optimistic about enrollment numbers, anticipating breaking 11,000 total enrollment and reaching at least the 1.8 percent increase on which the current budget is based.
Hodum said enrollment numbers show strong, sustainable growth and thanked faculty members for playing a vital role in that success.
“The single most commented on part of our campus visits is that students actually meet with faculty members,” said Hodum. “We do this better than any other school in the TBR.”
Jeff Roberts, president of Faculty Senate, assured faculty that a commitment to shared governance would play a big role in ensuring high quality teaching would not be undermined in light of the new funding formula that emphasizes student outcomes.
“We can increase student success while maintaining quality instruction,” he said.
Marc Burnett, vice president for student affairs, reported that residence halls are currently at capacity with 2,313 students; about 100 students will be placed in hotels until rooms become available. Athletics Director Mark Wilson reported that student-athletes had a “phenomenal year academically,” with a higher graduation rate and higher GPA (3.2) than the student body.
Armistead returned to the topic of the funding formula and described how the university has been addressing and will continue to address the shift in the funding formula, which places emphasis on graduation and retention over enrollment.
He said three public documents—the Complete College Tennessee Act, THEC’s master plan and the outcomes-based funding formula—stand out as particularly influential for our university’s future.
“All three documents share essentially the same theme: development of the Tennessee workforce through increasing the number of Tennesseans holding college degrees,” he said. “From our perspective, these documents place much stronger emphasis on the need to increase the numbers of students we retain and graduate, treating entry-level enrollments as merely the first step in this process.”
TBR universities will be expected to increase numbers of graduates by 3.5 percent. State funding will be calculated mainly from the number of students who reach milestones of 24, 48, and 72 hours, and the number who complete degrees.
“These and a few other so-called ‘productivity’ measures, whether we like them or not, must now become central to our thinking as we plan for the future,” said Armistead. “We started work a number of years ago and we should feel a certain degree of pride that we are prepared.”
“We are well positioned to accommodate this shift,” he continued. “We are not going to loosen our standards. We don’t have to.”
He listed some of the recent campus projects designed to improve student success and outcomes:
- Enhancements to space and facilities on campus include the opening of the Oakley STEM Center. The work conducted there will bring more science, engineering and math emphasis to the university, improve teaching and encourage research in those areas.
- The opening of the new residence halls, including new sorority meeting spaces and the learning village programs, will have a positive impact on student life.
- Renovations of academic buildings began with Foster Hall and will continue with others, including South Hall, Kittrell, Farr, Pennebaker and Brown. The goal is to improve classrooms and student experiences.
- A major IT infrastructure project is ongoing. When complete, it will allow us to transition to a totally wireless campus.
- Programs like the learning villages and the learning commons in the library will create more student-friendly, open learning environments on campus.
- We expect to expand peer mentoring programs as was most recently done in University 1020 classes and Minority Affairs.
- A dual admission agreement with Roane State Community College and a learning support agreement with Volunteer State Community College enhance transfer student pipelines and our articulation agreements already in place.
- A new program was created with an Agritourism concentration.
Armistead also described plans to ramp up efforts to secure funds to compensate for the loss of state funding. Those included increasing external grants and contracts, qualifying for federal funds, and generating private funding.
Claire Stinson, vice president for business and planning, updated faculty on budget news and also gave a glimpse at the timeline for the approval of the university’s new strategic plan. Information about the strategic planning process and documents available for review can be found on the strategic planning website at tntech.edu/strategicplanning.
She said news about the proposed longevity bonus for higher education employees, which was approved with the caveat that state revenues reach a certain dollar amount, will probably arrive in early September.
The meeting included introduction of new faculty and administrators, and faculty who received promotions and tenure. Armistead presided over the annual meeting in the absence of President Bob Bell, who was attending the funeral of Jerry Davis, a long-time friend and donor to the university.