Academic Affairs

There are so many wonderful and impactful developments occurring in our academic community that I could not possibly cover them all in the pages of this newsletter. The following, then, offers but a small snapshot of the kinds of transformative efforts occurring in our colleges and academic units across campus. True Blue!

Solid Leadership


Dr. Brad Bartel

Dr. Brad Bartel stepped down as University Provost in May 2016 and will return to his first love—teaching and mentoring students. Dr. Bartel’s efforts in enhancing student success and innovation in curriculum were significant during his tenure as provost. Let me again offer my sincere and deep appreciation and thanks to Dr. Bartel for his many contributions, specifically his leadership in the creation and establishment of the University’s guiding initiative, the Quest for Student Success. Thanks to the proactive and innovative work done by the faculty and administrators under Dr. Bartel’s guidance, our Quest efforts to improve curriculum, enhance student retention, and strengthen academic advising have been successful and garnered national praise and recognition.


Dr. Mark Byrnes

Dr. Mark Byrnes, dean of MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts since June 2010, is now serving as the University’s interim provost. Dr. Byrnes, a nationally recognized expert on the American presidency and Tennessee politics, has taught political science at MTSU since 1991 and was associate dean of liberal arts from 2006 to 2009. A 1983 graduate of MTSU who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Byrnes also was the recipient of one of the MTSU Foundation’s 2010 Public Service Awards. Dr. Byrnes, a native of Murfreesboro and a graduate of Riverdale High School, also has served as chairman and vice chairman of the Rutherford County School Board.


Dr. Karen Petersen

Based on Dr. Byrnes’ recommendation, I appointed Dr. Karen Petersen as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Dr. Petersen, a professor of political science specializing in international relations, served as the college’s assistant dean from 2010 to 2013 and has been associate dean since January 2014.



Melissa Towe

MTSU faculty and staff received 91 new awards and contracts during FY16 to support research, public service, and instructional activities. During FY16, the University had 224 active grants and contracts with a total sponsored programs portfolio value of $40,213,452. The following are just two examples of our many our research and intellectual property development highlights in the current year.
Melissa P. Towe, TRIO Student Support Services: U.S. Dept. of Education, $247,584, “Student Support Services at Middle Tennessee State University.” This one-year award will fund the continued operations of MTSU’s successful TRIO Student Support Services. This is the 15th year that this program has empowered first-generation, income-eligible students to succeed. The funding makes possible services including personal and academic counseling, tutoring, workshops, and cultural events. This is Dr. Towe’s first award at MTSU, and the successful grant proposal received a perfect score from Department of Education reviewers.


Song Cui

Song Cui, School of AgriBusiness and AgriScience: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), $714,023, “Integrating Agricultural Remote Sensing, Landscape Flux Measurements, and Agroecosystem Modeling in Research and Teaching across Different Institutions in the Southern US.” Doug Campbell, operations manager for MTSU’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Operations program, is the co-Principal Investigator. This is the second USDA award for Dr. Cui and MTSU under our 2014 designation as a Non-Land Grant College of Agriculture (NLGCA). This collaboration with Texas A&M University is part of MTSU’s growing research in precision agriculture. The interdisciplinary project integrates remote sensing, landscape flux measurements, and modeling in agro-ecological curriculum and research.


Dual Enrollment

The University’s dual enrollment program allows high school students, who meet MTSU’s admissions criteria and gain approvals from their guidance counselors, to take college classes before they graduate, thus earning high school and college credits at the same time. Classes are offered online and this past year began being offered at schools in Rutherford and Williamson counties.

  • 564 students enrolled in 653 unique classes for fall 2015
  • 558 students enrolled in 798 unique classes for spring 2016
  • 62 classes at 10 different high schools in Rutherford and Williamson County in 2015–16
  • Enrollment goal of 500 students exceeded

Andrew Miller Woodfin, Sr. Education Center

Starting this fall, area homeschooled high school students will have a chance to earn college credits and “get a slice of MTSU” by taking classes at the University College’s new Dual Enrollment Center in the Andrew Woodfin Miller Sr. Education Center
on Bell Street. Classes that will be offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays for fall semester include introductory college courses in psychology, music, and communication.

Academic Common Market

As of July 18, 203 out-of-state applications to attend MTSU through the Academic Common Market have been received. This is a 54 percent increase over last year at this time.

Of those, 164 applicants have been approved by their home states to participate in the Academic Common Market by the same date. This is an increase of 42 percent compared to last year at this time.

These increases are due to the increasing widespread reputation of
our unique academic programs and also to the successful out-of-state True Blue tour recruiting events held last fall.

Academic Programs

We have continued to update and expand our academic program offerings.

This fall we are starting a new Master of Library Science degree—the only such degree in the Board of Regents system.

This fall we are elevating our successful Journalism and Animation programs from concentrations within Mass Communication to stand-alone bachelor’s degrees.

During the past year, we also elevated the Actuarial Science concentration in Mathematics to a stand-alone major. The program is the only one of its kind in Tennessee, preparing our students
for what many recognize as one of the best jobs in America and that Time magazine calls one of the highest-paying jobs in America.

We also created new academic minors in Musical Theater Performance, Corporate Communication, and Arabic.

Looking forward, we continue to seek opportunities to develop unique programs to meet the needs and interests of Tennesseans.

In September, the Tennessee Board of Regents will vote on our proposal to establish B.A. and B.S. degrees in Religious Studies. If approved, we will be the only TBR university to offer this major.

We have received approval of our Letter of Application to establish a new bachelor’s degree with a major in Dance. This will be one of only two dance majors in the state.

We also had our Letter of Application approved to establish a new bachelor’s degree in Fermentation Science, which will build on the resources of our School of Agribusiness and Agriscience in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.

We are awaiting approval of our Letter of Application to establish new interdisciplinary B.A. and B.S. degrees in Africana Studies. Again, this will be
a unique degree among
TBR universities.


MTSU completed a successful on-site reaccreditation review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

In particular, I want to acknowledge the outstanding work of the dedicated team members for their many hours of preparation for this review.rust-dianna

hoffschwelle-maryThe SACSCOC review to consider reaffirmation of our accreditation represents a critical benchmark in the life of this university, as it independently validates every 10 years that our University is providing a high-quality academic experience for our students that meets the most rigorous standards.

As part of this process, the SACSCOC on-site committee reviewed our next proposed Quality
Plan (QEP)—MT Engage, which will enhance the 
educational experience 
of students throughout our academic colleges and programs. mtengage_logo_trans

Budget and Salary Overview Fall 2016

The final state budget as proposed by Gov. Haslam and approved by the state legislature included a reduction of $1 million in state funding for MTSU under THEC’s Outcomes Based Funding Formula.

That decrease, however, was offset by an increase of $4.7 million in enhancement funds. While I am pleased the net result mitigates the decline in formula funding, the reality is that we still needed every penny of those enhancement funds to help move our programs and facilities forward. Now, because of the shortfall in one bucket, we will have less in the other.


The Tennessee Board of Regents increased our tuition by 2.6 percent this fall. Again, while we welcome the increase in revenue, it, too, will fall short in covering our increasing costs.

For the first time, the salary increases proposed by the governor for state employees did not include higher education. While we are all state employees, we at the colleges and universities did not receive funding to pay for the 3 to 4 percent pay increase proposed for those working in other areas of the government.

The state, however, is allowing higher education institutions to use funds from appropriations for increases. But that’s the same money that we need to cover inflationary costs, repair and purchase crucial computers and technology, and perform long-overdue maintenance on our aging infrastructure.

Also, we are left on our own to determine how to meet the new Fair Labor Standards Act provisions that go into effect Dec. 1. We anticipate a significant number of administrative positions at the University will become non-exempt positions, which will require those individuals to report hours worked. This change will have a significant impact on the University’s budget as well.

So, again, we are faced with hard choices. As such, I intend to seek approval from the TBR in September to raise the salaries of faculty identified in the salary survey as being below the established pay range to the minimum of their range.

Any remaining monies that we can devote to pay increases will be used in a small cost-of-living increase for all unrestricted and restricted regular full-time and part-time benefit-eligible employees and participants in the post-retirement service program on the payroll as of June 30, 2016.


Saunders Building

Each eligible employee will receive a minimum of a 1 percent pay increase of their salary. The final percentage increase will not be determined until our fall enrollment figures are known. Unfortunately, this increase will not apply to adjunct faculty, temporary employees, graduate assistants, or student workers.

If grant funding is available, increases for grant employees will be charged to the appropriate grant, and increases for auxiliary employees will be funded from auxiliary revenues.

If approved by TBR, all increases will be effective Oct. 1, 2016.

The state again provided funding to match eligible employees’ deferrals in the 401(k) plan, which may be between $20 and $50 per month, and for longevity payments at $100 per year of creditable service up to a maximum number of 30 years.

“I’m pleased that we have been given funding to make our building more serviceable.” – MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee

Another bright spot in the state budget was the $6.7 million in capital maintenance funds for MTSU. Improvements include Saunders Fine Arts Building HVAC updates, energy recovery boiler repair, electrical updates, building automation system control panel replacements, and exterior repairs to several buildings. I’m pleased that we have been given funding to make our building more serviceable.

Student Success

In recent years, MTSU’s focus has been squarely on student success—meaning helping students overcome obstacles, stay enrolled in classes, and earn college degrees. Those goals are in perfect alignment with the state’s formula for funding that emphasizes graduation over sheer enrollment and with Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive for 55 initiative aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with degrees to 55 percent.

In 2013, I announced a major initiative—the MTSU Quest for Student Success—designed to ensure that every student who comes to MTSU with the drive to achieve would be met with the best instruction from excellent professors who care about their success. As part of the Quest, University faculty and staff members provide extra support and assistance when our students encounter unexpected difficulties or when roadblocks arise that negatively affect their persistence toward graduation.

The data bears out that we are excelling in the areas of retention and graduation in the past few years. Here are eleven fresh updates on our student success efforts.

1 REBOUND, our homegrown intervention for freshman students who achieved below a 2.0 grade point average their first semester, received a Models of Excellence award from a national organization (University Business). The program was also exclusively featured in an article published by Academic Impressions, a leading news source for higher education, with a subscriber base of 60,000.

2 The Scholars Academy continues its history of outstanding successes in serving at-risk students. The program has grown from an initial 30 students to 113 in 2014 and then 168 in 2015. In fall 2016, we are on track to enroll at least 350 students. A total of 85 percent of the students that started in the fall 2014 cohort were retained to fall 2015. This compares to an overall freshmen retention rate of 73 percent.

MTSU Free Tutoring

Tutoring opportunities can be found all over campus, and an ambitious new tutoring space in Walker Library is available.

3 Free tutoring was offered for 187 courses for fall 2015, representing 24 disciplines.  In this past semester alone, students spent 7,089 hours in tutoring! A recent internal study shows: Students that received tutoring were retained at 14 percentage points higher (77.78 percent) than those in the comparative group that did not receive tutoring (63.89 percent); juniors that received tutoring were retained at 100 percent, which is 41 percentage points higher than those in the comparative group who did not and retained at 58.93 percent; and the 79.17 percent retention rate for sophomores that received tutoring was nearly 10 percentage points higher than those that received no tutoring and had a retention rate of 69.79 percent.

4 Through the work of faculty and staff from across campus, a total of 30 Raider Learning Communities were offered for fall 2015. A careful assessment was made of RLC outcomes by the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, Policy and Research. Among the findings, there was a 3.3 percentage increase in persistence for RLC participants as compared to non-participants.

5 We continue to make great progress in improving success rates for new freshmen. In fall 2013, freshman retention was 68.2 percent. In fall 2014, the freshmen retention rate increased to 70.2 percentage. And, in fall 2015, MTSU’s retention rate for new freshmen, 73.2 percent, reached the highest level in at least the past 15 years. The improvement in freshman retention between fall 2014 and fall 2015, 3.0 percentage points, was the largest one-year increase observed at MTSU in at least the past 15 years.

6 In October 2015, MTSU was presented with the Data Driven Impact Award by the Education Advisory Board, a consulting group specializing in student success. MTSU was one of three universities to receive an award. In MTSU’s case, the award was in recognition of the University’s use of data to inform decisions that improve the success of students. Considerable progress continues to be made in implementing and applying technology to support our emphasis on advising. In October 2014, MTSU launched the EAB SSC predictive analytics system. Soon thereafter, MTSU became recognized as a national leader in utilization of the system. On March 10, 2016, the advising platform was significantly upgraded to SSC Campus. Advisors quickly began applying new features in the system to serve all students, but especially at-risk students. Many faculty have been introduced to the system, with a goal to ensure that all faculty have access and understand basic features by the close of the 2016–17 academic year. In August 2016, phase II of the system will be implemented, which places all advisors and students on a common scheduling system. And work is underway for launch of phase III of the system in January 2017, when tutoring will become an integrated part of the platform.

7 MTSU continues to receive national attention for its student success efforts. In recent weeks and months, articles about MTSU’s Quest for Student Success have appeared in USA Today, EDUCAUSE, Inside Higher Education, Academic Impressions, Education Dive, NerdWallet, and eCampus News.

8 Because of student success accomplishments, MTSU representatives have been invited to present at or participate in professional conferences, including SXSWedu, Austin, Texas, March 2016; iPASS2 at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle, June 2016; ACT Enrollment Planners Conference, Chicago, July 2016; at the invitation of the Lumina Foundation, Indianapolis, December 2015; as a panelist at EDUCAUSE, sponsored by the Gates Foundation, Indianapolis, October 2015; and at the invitation of the Gates Foundation, Seattle, September 2015.

9 MTSU has been selected as one of five institutions to be profiled by Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) for best practices in implementing student success programs. A film producer and crew spent two days on the MTSU campus in April 2016 interviewing more than a dozen administrators, faculty, and staff for the project. In another project, APLU also selected MTSU as one of a select number of institutions to be featured as a National Case Study for Effective Use of Data to Improve Student Outcomes.

10 In the past six months,MTSU has been visited by representatives from six colleges and universities interested in best practices in implementing student success programs.

11 Through the work of faculty and other University leaders, a total of 21 sections of Supplemental Instruction (SI) courses will be piloted in fall 2016. Supplemental Instruction is a leading educational best practice that provides students with additional support, typically in courses where many students experience difficulties.


We are working very hard every day to recruit the best and the brightest students to enroll at MTSU!

True Blue Tour

As the University welcomes students to campus for a successful Fall 2016, the admissions department is already looking forward to Fall 2017. The recruitment staff
are on the road meeting with students in their communities. The annual True Blue Tour will highlight these fall recruitment activities. This year’s tour boasts 11 stops, an increase from last year, to include a visit to Louisville, Kentucky. University administrators, deans, student services staff, and student leaders, as well as area alumni, will be joining me to welcome prospective students and share information about the admissions process, financial aid, scholarships, and new academic
programs. Students will have the opportunity to learn more about what it means to be
True Blue!2016 True Blue Tour Stops

Tour stops in Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky will emphasize opportunities for out-of-state students to qualify for in-state tuition rate through participation in the Academic Common Market or the Regional Scholars program. Students who live in participating states and plan to pursue academic majors not offered in their home states, or students whose high schools are in a county within a 250-mile radius of MTSU and achieve qualifying college placement scores can be eligible to receive tuition savings.

Campus Tour Experience

As each academic year begins and we welcome our newest class of students, we also take time to review what worked well for our successful recruitment cycle. Surveys show that the most influential recruitment activity impacting a student’s enrollment decision is the campus visit. Since the start of Fall 2015, more than 15,000 students and guests have come through the admissions campus tour program. That is a remarkable increase of more than 1,000 prospective students and 2,000 additional guests visiting campus compared to the previous year. In order to make the visit more meaningful, the admissions department is enhancing its tour program to create a Tour Experience for each student visiting the University. Upgraded multimedia presentations, along with hands-on exploration,
social media integration, and student-led walk-ing tours, will better enable prospective students and guests to
take a closer look at MTSU.

New Director


Friends Fady Abdelnour, left, 18, and Mary Sadek, right, 19, both of Nashville and Glencliff High School graduates, visit with Linda Olsen, the new director of undergraduate recruitment at MTSU during CUSTOMS freshman orientation June 1 in Tucker Theatre.

It is my pleasure to “welcome home” Linda Olsen (’98) to serve as the undergraduate director of admissions and recruitment. She brings a background in high school counseling and college admissions and student services administration. Linda comes to MTSU from Eastern Florida State College after serving as director of admissions and advising for the past eight years. A doctoral candidate with the University of Central Florida, she has returned to Tennessee to support the enrollment and student growth of her alma mater. Leading an outstanding team of energetic recruitment staff,
she stands ready to guide students through the admissions process toward
successful degree completion.

Blue Bag Campaign

Students have reported feeling welcomed when visiting MTSU. In an effort to expand this sense of belonging, the admissions department is launching the True Blue Bag Campaign. Every campus visitor will be given a distinguishable blue bag upon check-in for their campus tour. With these bags, our campus visitors will be very visible, not only in tour groups, but also as they explore the campus on their own time.



Please take time to greet our guests when you notice the True Blue Bags.  Welcome them to our beautiful campus and share why you are proud to be True Blue.


Fall Preview Days are scheduled for upcoming Saturdays on Sept. 24 and Nov. 5. Each day begins at 8 a.m. in the Student Union Building.

A New Focus

I wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with several updates regarding MTSU’s work in preparing for the implementation of the recently authorized FOCUS Act by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bill Haslam. As you know, in December 2015, Gov. Haslam announced the next step in his “Drive to 55” education initiative intended to raise the number of Tennesseans possessing secondary degrees to 55% in order to meet future workforce demands. The six state universities that have historically operated under the auspices of the Tennessee Board of Regents—a group that includes MTSU—were removed from direct control of the TBR. New governing boards specific to each university will now be created or appointed and will have local control over institutional operations such as tuition rates.

On June 29, I attended an informative meeting of the FOCUS Act Transition Task Force, chaired by the governor, where he presented the timeline for implementation of the new governance structure. Here is a summary:


Late September 2016: The governor plans to announce his appointments to the six boards of trustees for the former TBR universities (MTSU, Austin Peay, East Tennessee, Memphis, Tennessee State, and Tennessee Tech);

Fall 2016: Faculty Senates at MTSU and the five other former TBR universities will be asked to develop processes for selection of faculty members for the boards;

October 2016: MTSU and the five other former TBR institutions transmit Substantive Change Review proposals to our accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The body requires such notification when there is a significant modification or expansion in the nature and scope of an accredited institution;

February–March 2017: The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) presents and reviews appropriation, capital, and tuition recommendations to legislative committees. Also, during this time period, THEC will work with the UT and TBR boards, as well as the six boards that are forming, to understand campus revenue needs and prepare binding tuition recommendations;

Late March 2017: The state will offer professional development sessions for the members of the six new boards of trustees;

April 2017: The six new boards of trustees will meet for the first time.


June 2016 signing of the FOCUS Act

With regards to our internal preparation for the new governance changes, our campus FOCUS Act Implementation Transition Team, divisional working groups, and subcommittees have been busy reviewing MTSU policies and TBR policies and guidelines to determine which ones will be applicable subsequent to the transition to a local board of trustees. As revisions are proposed by the MTSU Transition Team, they will be posted on a new FOCUS Policy web page. As with our current policy review process, policies reviewed by the FOCUS Act Transition Team will be emailed to the campus for review. This began July 15. The normal 30-day comment period will be expanded in order to provide faculty with adequate time for review upon their return to the campus. Thus, any policies put out for review prior to August 26 will have a comment deadline of September 25. Thereafter, it will revert to the standard 30-day period.

Finally, in early June, several MTSU administrators joined me in a meeting with Dr. Russ Deaton, THEC’s acting executive director. I was pleased to review THEC’s priorities during this transition and its commitment to a smooth changeover.

I believe this new proposal advanced by the governor and the corresponding new level of independence for the former TBR universities is truly bold and potentially transformational for MTSU. I look forward to learning and exploring the opportunities it could provide towards our mission of ensuring student success and providing more graduates for the state’s workforce.

Furthering the Quest

Our ultimate success as educators here at MTSU, I believe, lies in our day-by-day efforts to ensure that every student gets the attention they deserve on their path to earning a degree.

Our unwavering focus on helping individual students overcome obstacles, stay enrolled in classes, and earn college degrees, regardless of the external factors around us, is what I believe will make us a successful institution today, tomorrow, and in the future.

MTSU Quest for Student Success

A few years ago, MTSU launched a major initiative—the Quest for Student Success. This Quest is designed to ensure that every student who comes to MTSU with the drive to achieve will be met with the best instruction from excellent professors who care for their success. As part of the Quest, University faculty and staff members have also become more flexible and nimble enough to provide extra support and assistance when our students encounter unexpected difficulties or when roadblocks arise that negatively affect their persistence toward graduation. By doing so, we have created a culture of high expectations coupled with personal attention when students struggle inside or outside the classroom. The following update provides a list of the top 15 recent developments in our Quest. True Blue!

On January 15, 2016, more than 100 students were welcomed to the REBOUND program. In its second year of operation, REBOUND provides specialized advising and programming to freshmen who earn less than a 2.0 GPA in their first semester of studies. The one-year retention rate for students who participate in REBOUND is 50 percent higher than for students who do not.

The Scholars Academy continues its tradition of success in serving at-risk new freshmen. In Fall 2014, 113 students entered the program. By Fall 2015, a total of 85 percent of these Scholars Academy students returned to MTSU, a retention rate that easily surpassed new freshmen who were not a part of the program (73.2 percent). In Fall 2015, the Scholars Academy expanded to serve 167 students. Early indicators show that these students, much like those who participated in earlier programs, continue to excel. About one-quarter were named to the Dean’s List, and nearly 50 percent earned above a 3.0 GPA in their first semester of studies.

MTSU’s tutoring initiative continues to evolve to support the academic needs of students. Although the Office of Student Success coordinates tutoring, the real work involved is accomplished by faculty and chairs who recruit, hire, and manage tutors for their individual program areas. In Fall 2015, free tutoring was offered for 187 courses, representing 24 disciplines. In this semester alone, students spent 7,089 hours in tutoring!

A transformative model of academic advising developed and implemented as part of the Quest has reshaped the student experience at MTSU. This initiative has involved:

  • Selection and appointment of advisor managers for every college
  • Recruitment and appointment of 47 additional advisors to bring the median student-to-advisor caseload to 300/1 or less
  • Creation of work spaces for college advising centers
  • Development of a year-long education and training program to prepare and acclimate advisors to a new student success paradigm
  • Creation and implementation of an advising culture that is student-centered, data-informed, and strategy-driven

5  During the first year alone of using a new predictive analytics system (EAB SSC), academic advisors at MTSU:

  • Met in person with 28,184 students
  • Conducted 9,438 advising sessions by email or online
  • Advised 1,450 students by phone
  • Reviewed the files of 22,214 students and reached out to assist them
  • Altogether, made 63,945 contacts with students

6  Within the first six months of implementing both this new advising model and the predictive analytics system:

  • MTSU was recognized as a top user among the more than 170 universities using the EAB SSC system.
  • Advisors focused on basic outreach campaigns—like getting students enrolled for the upcoming semester—that produced significant gains in persistence rates from the Fall 2014 to Spring 2015 semester.
  • Persistence rates increased by 2.2 percentage points for new freshmen, 4.5 points for transfers, and 2.1 points for sophomores.
  • It is estimated that improvements in persistence rates for the first semester alone resulted in the generation of an additional $1.5 million in Spring 2015 tuition and fees.
  • It is estimated that these efforts resulted in retaining an additional 390 students from Fall 2014 to Spring 2015.

7  In Spring 2015, more than 2,500 students were surveyed about their experiences with academic advising at MTSU. The results were compared to a survey conducted of the undergraduate population exactly two years prior. Student opinion of advising experiences were significantly higher in 2015 as compared to 2013, especially on items that included:

  • Willingness to discuss problems
  • Responds in a timely manner
  • Is approachable and easy to talk with
  • Is available when assistance is needed
  • Is helpful in clarifying life and career goals
  • Is helpful in obtaining tutorial assistance
  • Is helpful in improving study habits
  • Is helpful in selecting a major

8  During the Spring 2015 semester, advisors managers, chairs, program coordinators, and faculty went through a careful process to identify “success markers” for more than 150 undergraduate programs. This involved a thorough assessment of each program area’s most predictive courses, establishing grade thresholds for these courses, and determining sequences for course completion. Success markers have been entered into and are active in the EAB SSC system. These markers enable the identification of students who are at-risk or off-track in completing degree requirements. Academic advisors use these success markers in conjunction with risk prediction to conduct outreach campaigns to assist students.

9  Over the past three years, a total of 28 MTSU gateway, high-enrolled undergraduate courses have been redesigned. All 10 of MTSU’s most predictive and most enrolled courses have been redesigned. The redesign of courses, in every case, has led to increases in rates of success for students.

10  In Fall 2015, MTSU’s retention rate for new freshmen, 73.2 percent, reached the highest level in at least the past 15 years. The improvement in freshman retention between Fall 2014 and Fall 2015, +3.0 percentage points, was the largest one-year increase observed at MTSU in at least the past 15 years.

11  Although Spring 2016 census data will not be available until later in the semester, trends show that persistence (the percentage of students who started in Fall 2015 and return in Spring 2016) continues to increase—in every category! Although Spring 2015 was a record year for student persistence, trends suggest continued persistence increases across all student categories for Spring 2016.

12  Raider Learning Communities (RLCs) were re-invigorated for the Fall 2015 semester, with 28 paired courses offered to serve students. Pairings of courses were predicated on the analysis of course offerings data from previous semesters. Faculty members were encouraged to consider participating in an RLC. Professional development support including readings and a retreat were provided to RLC faculty. Analysis of student experiences and performance outcomes is underway.

13  In the past six months MTSU has participated in limited-invitation convenings to discuss the future of higher education and student success initiatives, including:

  • In December 2015 in Indianapolis at the invitation of the Lumina Foundation
  • In October 2015 in Indianapolis as a panelist at EDUCAUSE, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • In September 2015 in Seattle at the invitation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

14  MTSU has become recognized regionally and nationally by media outlets, national organizations, and other universities for using fundamental best practices to increase student success rates.

  • MTSU was featured in the March 13, 2015 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, and MTSU’s efforts were pointed out in the Washington Post on June 14, 2015.
  • In August 2015, MTSU was identified as one of five finalists nationwide for the prestigious and highly competitive 2015 Project Degree Completion Award from the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU). The award recognizes high-performing institutions for exemplary student success initiatives to improve retention and degree completion.
  • In September 2015, EDUCAUSE announced 24 recipients of iPASS (Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success) grants. MTSU was selected to receive $225,000 over the next three years to fund a portion of the SSC Campus and DegreeWorks initiatives. Institutions had to be invited in order to make application for the highly competitive grants. And, of course, competition was stringent among those who submitted proposals. With funding provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, iPASS grants are intended to promote and enhance the ability of leading institutions to graduate more students.
  • In October 2015, MTSU was presented with the Data Driven Impact Award by the Education Advisory Board, a consulting group specializing in student success. MTSU was one of three universities to receive an award. In MTSU’s case, the award was in recognition of the University’s use of data to inform decisions that improve the success of students.

15  In August 2015, MTSU academic advisors received my Annual Student Success Award. The award included $25,000 in recurring funds to support professional development needs of advisors.

Changing Times

Tennessee Governor Bill HaslamAs most of you are no doubt already aware, Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed sweeping change regarding the governance structure for the six Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) universities, including MTSU.

The governor wants to remove those universities from under the direct control of the TBR, which has governed them for decades. In TBR’s place, new local governing boards would be fashioned that would have decision-making power over such crucial University operations as tuition rates, program enhancements, presidential appointments, and budget control.

According to Gov. Haslam, this proposed major structural change would be engineered, in part, to better allow the TBR to focus on the state’s community colleges and Colleges of Applied Technology, which have experienced dramatic enrollment increases as a result of the Tennessee Promise scholarship. The Tennessee Promise program offers eligible high school graduates two years of tuition-free community or technical college. (The Promise contributed to a 10-percent surge in first-time freshman enrollment statewide, a key development in Gov. Haslam’s Drive to 55 education initiative to raise the number of Tennesseans possessing postsecondary degrees or certification to 55 percent in order to meet future workforce demands.)

At the time of the writing of this report, there was still much unknown and undecided about the proposed new higher-education landscape that would be created under this new governance structure. The governor had appointed a task force to fine-tune his plan to create individual governing boards for the six affected Tennessee universities, and I was selected (along with the other presidents of universities currently governed by the TBR) to serve on that committee.

This proposed new governing structure, I believe, has great potential to enable MTSU to tackle its present and future challenges in an even more laser-focused manner. It could do so by granting the University both greater local autonomy in its decision making, as well as greater freedom to think entrepreneurially and even outside the box as regards the need for program enhancements and new initiatives. With the work MTSU has already been accomplishing over the past few years, specifically as it relates to attracting more college-ready students (including transfer students) to campus, I am confident that such a truly bold and potentially transformational proposal would lead to an even brighter future for our University. I look forward to learning and exploring the opportunities it could provide towards our mission of ensuring student success and providing even more graduates for the state’s workforce.

Tennessee Board of Regents ChancellorsIn a related matter, John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, announced his plan to retire at the end of January. David Gregory, who had planned to retire in January as TBR’s vice chancellor for administration and facilities development, was named acting chancellor and will serve until a permanent replacement is selected. Morgan, who has served as chancellor of the state’s university and community college system since October 2010 and led the system’s transformation to become more comprehensive and student focused, called the announcement bittersweet and said it was timed to acknowledge the accomplishments achieved by the system’s institutions over the past five years.

Chancellor Morgan’s visionary leadership of the Tennessee Board of Regents helped bring about significant reforms and improvements in our state’s higher education system.

That leadership was demonstrated by his able work to guide TBR’s institutions during implementation of the Complete College Tennessee Act and Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiatives.

As president of MTSU, I have respected and appreciated his counsel and guidance as we secured our $147 million Science Building, one of the top scientific teaching and research facilities in the nation, and put forward our Quest for Student Success, which has transformed how we teach and serve our students.

I have enjoyed working with the chancellor and, on behalf of our students, faculty, and staff, we thank him for his service to our state and system.

Budget Update

Budget UpdateMTSU remained relatively flat year-over- year in enrollment this fall (.96 percent headcount and 1.98 percent full-time equivalent decrease). This slight decrease equated to an approximate $1.9 million revenue reduction. However, the two previous fall decreases were 4.82 percent and 5.96 percent respectively, so clearly our ramped-up enrollment efforts are working quite well. This slight decrease is even more impressive given that this was the first fall for the Tennessee Promise scholarship and mentoring program, which provides students a last-dollar scholarship, meaning the scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship, or Tennessee Student Assistance Awards funds. My thanks again to everyone on staff who works so hard on enrollment efforts at our University each and every day.

New revenues from tuition increases equated to approximately $5,270,000. Our net increase in state appropriations (outcomes formula adjustment and new funds for outcomes improvement) was $1,247,300. These new funds were allocated to the following:

  • MTSU portion of two percent pool salary increase;
  • faculty promotions;
  • increased cost of software maintenance agreements;
  • utility and operations/maintenance cost increases;
  • scholarships, tuition discounts, employee fee waivers and dependent discounts, and graduate assistant fee waivers;
  • funding for college deans’ requests for continuing improvements on the MTSU Quest for Student Success initiatives; and
  • student tutoring/supplemental instruction and dual enrollment instruction.

Looking toward fiscal year 2016–17, MTSU’s share of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s outcomes formula adjustment will be a decrease of $1,021,100. However, THEC voted at its November 2015 meeting to propose new state funding totaling $40.9 million for the higher education formula institutions. MTSU’s share of the proposed new funding will be $3,908,400. Thus, MTSU’s state funding could actually increase by $2,887,300.

The commission also voted to recommend $12.54 million in capital maintenance funds for MTSU projects, which include Peck Hall HVAC, stairwell, and flooring restoration; Saunders Fine Arts HVAC updates; exterior building repairs to several buildings; domestic water-sewer systems updates; building automation system control panel replacements for several buildings; electrical updates; and energy recovery boiler repair. No MTSU capital project was proposed for new capital outlay funding for 2016–17.

THEC’s recommendations have been submitted to the Department of Finance and Administration for consideration in the proposed state budget that Gov. Bill Haslam will be submitting to the state legislature in the coming weeks. At that point, we will have more information regarding our likely 2016–17 state appropriation.


In September, 2015, the Tennessee Board of Regents took formal action to approve a two percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) across-the-board (ATB) salary increase for MTSU employees. The salary increase was distributed to all unrestricted and restricted regular full-time and part-time benefit eligible employees and participants in the post-retirement service program on the payroll as of June 30, 2015. Each eligible employee received an increase equal to two percent of their June 30, 2015 salary or $750, whichever was greater.

The minimum payment was prorated for part-time employees. Increases for grant employees were part of the salary adjustments, and their increases were charged to the appropriate grant (increases for auxiliary employees were funded from auxiliary revenues). All increases were effective in the October 2015 pay period but included retroactive pay to July 1, 2015. Unfortunately, due to limited funds available, those increases did not apply to adjunct faculty, temporary employees, graduate assistants, or student workers. It is my sincere hope that as resources become available, we will be in a position to address these very important groups of employees.

Please know how much I value each of you and appreciate your good work. I was grateful that we were able again to give some salary increases to our employees.

Construction Update

Numerous campus construction projects are ongoing or were recently completed. Here is a brief update on those recent and current projects.

Davis Science and Wiser-Patten Science

Davis Science and Wiser-Patten RenovationSubstantial completion is planned by late fall for this crucial renovation project, costing approximately $20 million. The new and returning occupants will move in late fall and over the holiday break before the spring 2017 semester. A new connector between the two buildings—the Strobel Lobby—will create a central entrance for both buildings and will provide ADA accessibility within both buildings. The new connector structure is complete, and the exterior skin is being installed.

Wiser-Patten building construction is well underway with finishes beginning. Three-quarters of all mechanical, electrical, and plumbing work is complete in Wiser-Patten, and the new elevators will be installed in February. The lab casework starts this March. Occupants of the buildings will include Physics, Anthropology, and Forensic Science.

Davis Science Building walls are being renovated, and mechanical and plumbing work is about 50 percent complete. Occupants of the buildings will include Academic Advising, Geosciences, and new Mechatronics labs.

Adams Tennis ComplexAdams Tennis Complex
Last summer, the City of Murfreesboro and MTSU officials unveiled the long-anticipated Adams Indoor Tennis Complex, an eight-court facility that greatly enhances the Blue Raider tennis program while increasing playing and tournament opportunities for area residents. The new $6.2 million, 70,000-square foot complex, located at Old Fort Park in Murfreesboro, is the latest partnership between the city, MTSU, and the nonprofit Christy-Houston Foundation.

The complex sports eight indoor tennis courts, two electronic scoreboards, a pro shop, and a lounge area with a mezzanine for spectator viewing. The Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department operates the facility, allowing Blue Raider tennis practices and matches to take place from November until March while also providing opportunities for the city to host other tournaments throughout the year.

The new facility gives the Murfreesboro community—including MTSU staff and faculty—more opportunities to watch the Blue Raiders in action without traveling to Nashville.

Middle Tennessee Boulevard Widening

Construction on the widening of Middle Tennessee Boulevard is starting this January following the award of the construction bid to Jarrett Builders Inc., by the City of Murfreesboro. The project is designed to improve traffic flow and safety along the edge of campus, with the introduction of bike paths, additional signalized crossings at Lytle and Division, improved lighting, and landscaped medians and turn lanes in the center.

Traffic calming features are key components to the project to support pedestrian safety in the area. Pedestrian safety is a paramount concern of the project team, and pedestrians crossing the road are encouraged to exercise extreme caution.

Construction will begin on the section south of the culvert at Sinking Creek. Two-way traffic will be maintained at all times throughout the course of the project, planned for approximately 30 months. Entrances to the campus will be maintained at Greenland Drive, Faulkinberry, and Bell Street.

The City of Murfreesboro and MTSU will provide periodic construction status updates and notifications about any changes to the traffic flow or pedestrian crossings.

Livestock Center Parking Lot

Plans are underway to pave and restripe the Livestock Center parking lot and provide improved traffic and shuttle bus circulation, improved lighting, and drainage in the area, as well as a widened pedestrian walk to the lot. Construction is expected to begin this summer.

Miller Education Center Renovation

Miller Education RenovationThe renovation of the Miller Education Center (MEC), formerly the Bell Street Center, is complete and is open for the start of spring semester. The center is an approximately two-minute drive from the edge of campus, located located between Greenland Drive and Bell Street at Highland. New occupants include the Jennings A. Jones College of Business Center for Executive Education, the University College, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, and the Center for Chinese Music and Culture.

The Chinese cultural center is the result of a $1 million grant provided by Hanban Confucius Institute in Beijing, an organization sponsored by China’s education ministry that oversees more than 440 institutes in 120 countries. In collaboration with our sister university, Hangzhou, the new center will promote music as a vital element in education and understanding of Chinese people and culture. It will also become another component of our extremely successful international outreach, which has earned MTSU recognition as a leader in global studies.

The MEC renovation includes upgrades to a meeting space on the second floor adjacent to the central atrium. The meeting space will accommodate flexible seminars for 60 occupants, or approximately 145 occupants for special events. In addition, there are offices for University Police and Events Coordination. Site improvements include lighting upgrades in the garage, new lighting in the surface parking lots, and new fencing around the green space, now complete.

MT Engage and SACS accreditation

The compliance audit for our reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) will be submitted in the coming weeks. Importantly, the development of our new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), as part of the reaccreditation process, is well underway. A draft of the plan, branded MT Engage—which was announced in the fall of 2014—is available to the campus community on the QEP web site http://www.mtsu.edu/QEP/submission_draft.php.

MT EngageAs part of the ongoing effort to have broad-based involvement into the plan, I invite faculty, staff and administrators to read the plan to provide feedback to the QEP chair, Dianna Rust, or subcommittee chairs, Jason Vance, Lara Daniel and Michelle Boyer-Pennington. The on-site review of the QEP will be March 29-31.

MT Engage seeks to create a culture in which students become actively engaged in their learning. This will be accomplished by supporting faculty who seek to incorporate high-impact engagement pedagogies into their teaching. The second key piece of MT Engage is getting students to reflect and think about their learning. Each MT Engage-designated course will require students to complete at least one assignment that fosters integrative thinking and reflection. Examples of this work will be collected in personalized ePortfolios, which will become showcases for students’ integration of the knowledge, skills, and abilities gained during their time at MTSU.

I would like to thank each member of the MT Engage Development Committee for their efforts to create a successful plan that will enhance student’s satisfaction with their learning and improve student learning outcomes.

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