In his State of the University Address Feb. 1, President Sidney Ribeau called upon faculty, staff and students to once more come to the aid of the University and help sway prospective students’ decisions toward Bowling Green.
BGSU has seen a dip in enrollment this year and, though anticipated, “it’s a dip we can’t afford to take again,” the president said. “But there’s something you can do about that.”
Of the 11,000 expected applicants, “the number of enrollees needs to go up,” Ribeau said, urging everyone to ensure that families visiting during the Presidents’ Day open house Feb. 18, and at any time, are treated especially well.
BGSU pioneered the concept of the Presidents’ Day event and has been successful at it, Ribeau noted, adding that he regularly receives letters and calls from parents expressing appreciation for the warm and helpful reception they received during campus visits. This is now more important than ever, he said.
With decreased funding from the state, raising enrollment is a “primary goal” for the University, he said. “This is a competitive market. We need to make a good impression on them on this day when they’re deciding where they will spend the next four to five years of their lives. We have to make sure they are contacted and engaged.”
While the good news from Columbus seems to be that, unlike in the past, higher education will not bear the lion’s share of budget reductions, the total amount of state share of instruction is still much less than needed, Ribeau said. BGSU will have to make an additional $1.5 million in permanent reductions for fiscal year 2009, on top of the savings earmarked for this year.
A history of support
Faculty and staff have been making valiant efforts on behalf of the University, in terms of giving to the Family Campaign and in helping identify savings that could be made to offset the $3 million deficit the University faced as of last July 1. “Thank you very much for your hard work and sacrifice in making this happen. It’s not easy to take $3 million from your budget,” Ribeau said.
He marveled at the more than $1 million contributed by 1,700 faculty, staff and retirees to the Family Campaign last year, which helped boost the Building Dreams Centennial Campaign well past its $120 million goal a full year before the effort’s end next December.
In addition, more than 34,000 alumni have donated, enabling the University to raise $125.3 million to date. “Thus far, $6.9 million has been raised for 10 new endowed professorships (that was a goal of the campaign—we need to have endowed professorships in every college),” he said, “and two funds for teaching and coaching excellence; $40.4 million has been raised for scholarships, and 460 new scholarships have been established.” Another $29.7 million has been raised for programs and facilities, along with $48.9 million for sustaining the University itself.
State and University planning
Meanwhile, as Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut is compiling the state’s 10-year master plan for higher education, which he will present to the legislature March 31, BGSU has been engaged in revisiting its own strategic planning process, Ribeau said.
“Our challenge is twofold,” Ribeau said. “We must align our plan with the chancellor’s plan, and we must update our plan to predict our future.”
Ribeau described Fingerhut’s plan as a “view from 20,000 feet. It will not determine what we do here on a daily basis,” he said, but it will direct the future of Ohio higher education and set goals in four major areas that all institutions must work toward. These are educational attainment, quality, affordability and economic leadership.
In the months since Fingerhut was appointed, Ribeau has “fought hard” to shape aspects of those four areas, he said, and succeeded in having graduation rates compared to expected rates, and having capital improvements included in the quality component. With the deteriorating campus buildings statewide, “we have to address those concerns,” he said.
Though the details of the state plan are now only in a draft state and very much in flux, it does set the lofty goal of increasing participation in higher education among Ohio’s citizens by 230,000 students over the next 10 years, Ribeau said. “This means we will have to get older students into the pipeline. Demographics show there just aren’t enough students being born” to accomplish this otherwise, he said. “We will have to revisit the students who were eligible for higher education at one time and bring them back. And how do we do that? It’s with programs that attract them.”
Ribeau has appointed a University Strategic Planning Group to guide the creation of the BGSU plan, analyzing and synthesizing input from various areas. “They will horizontally integrate it across campus to ensure that the major units of the University can act in concert to achieve BGSU’s mission,” he said. But to make sure the plan is feasible, they will be interacting with the campus governance groups, who will review and make recommendations, the president said.
The group will work through April on the draft, and the plan will be revisited at the beginning of fall semester before being sent to the chancellor. “Every loop that needs to be closed will be closed in the process,” Ribeau said.
Despite the current turmoil in the world and the difficulties the University faces, Ribeau said he hears about “optimism and the possibilities of what could be done, not the obstacles we have to overcome” when he talks with the campus community. “And therein lies the answer to the puzzle,” he said. “We can’t control what happens in Iraq or Darfur, or what happens in Columbus. But we can control what we do here, how thoughtful and purposeful we are. And how by being effective and efficient we will free up resources so that we can do other things we need to do.
“Getting better only happens by being collaboratively engaged—in our classrooms, our departments and in our administrative units.”