Making Student Success a Priority

MTSU students gather on the KOM steps

MTSU students gather on the steps of Kirksey Old Main

As we embark on our second century, we are well positioned to build on our success and cement our reputation as Tennessee’s Best comprehensive university.

But there is much more to do if we are to reach our full potential.

As you well know, the state’s funding formula for universities has changed. With the passage of the Complete College Tennessee Act, our state appropriation is now based on retention and graduation rates, not enrollment.

This change has prompted MTSU, as well as all of the state’s public institutions of higher education, to rethink our operations and structure.

The funding formula makes it more important than ever for us to focus on attracting more students who are best equipped for college and are most likely to graduate.

And it becomes critical that we continue to develop effective support systems that will help all our students succeed.

It is also time for us to again take a strong, careful look at the size of our institution and to consider the following questions and issues:

  • What should be our maximum enrollment?
  • How does that number balance with our resources and standards?

Last academic year, I asked for the development of a plan that would allow for enrollment growth in a deliberate and economically viable way.

The Strategic Plan for Enrollment Management, currently in draft form, is now before the Faculty Senate and others for feedback.

It addresses several critical questions, among them:

  • Should we slow the growth of our freshman class?
  • Can we better target high-achievers by slightly raising academic standards for guaranteed undergraduate admission?
  • Should we continue to increase the number of graduate students, who earn their diplomas more quickly and reliably than undergraduates?
  • Should we continue to aggressively pursue increasing the enrollment of more international students, a high achieving group, whose members generally complete their degrees on time?
  • And should we continue to increase our recruitment efforts and scholarship dollars for transfer students, who have survived the so-called dropout years of early college?

In 1993, a noted scholar of higher education administration, Vincent Tinto, said universities must do more than recruit solid students—they must also build a culture that enables them to succeed.

Tinto put forward three very simple principles of “effective retention” and they are:

  • Put student welfare ahead of other institutional goals. In other words, work first to take care of students and, most likely, most everything else will follow suit.
  • Create and maintain retention tools and practices that help all students, not just some of them.
  • AND build a sense of community and common values, which helps to build connection and belonging by students to the university.

I want to spend a minute on that third point—building a sense of community and common values for the institution.

A fascinating 2005 study by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities on best practices in student retention revealed several points that are worthy of reflection.

The successful universities profiled in the study worked to create a pervasive attitude that all students can succeed, reinforced by a wider culture of student engagement, on multiple levels. They were not content to rest on past success.

Recently, we have initiated some programs to help improve student success on our campus. For example:

• We started an Academic Alert program, which allows faculty to communicate directly with students about classroom performance and follow up on concerns. Last year, more than 27,000 early alerts were entered in this digital system.

• We have assigned all incoming students with Academic Counselors, in addition to their standard academic advisors. While advisors change each time a student changes majors, the student’s Academic Counselor is the one person they can turn to for help — from enrollment through graduation — regardless of what they study.

• AND…We are now deploying admissions advisors to major feeder community colleges in the region. Through this program, prospective transfer students have access—on their own campus—to MTSU staff through regularly maintained office hours at the community college.

These are just three of the many ideas that are in place or being developed that focus upon student success. Through these and other retention efforts, we hope to improve student performance and scholarship and target resources to students when they most need them.

But there is so much more to do. • If we sit on our hands and do nothing, we may fail to seize an opportunity that could define our second century.

Students will remember those faculty and staff members who challenged them the most, not the least. They will remember the people who reached out, who connected with them.

That is why I ask each of you to remember that no matter what you do, as a member of the faculty, staff or administration, all of us have a responsibility for student success.

Together, we make student success possible at Middle Tennessee State University.

What is True Blue?

Everett Bratten - Advertising/Public Relations Major

“I am True Blue” began at MTSU as an affirmation of the best ideals shared by the Blue Raider community. It signals our values, our commitment to student success and our devotion to the institution. It also calls upon all of us – students, alumni, faculty, staff and administration alike – to be valuable contributors to the progress and success of our University.

It was introduced in August 2011 when it was read aloud by our incoming freshman we welcomed at convocation. It is the first line of the True Blue Pledge, which spells out our four core values: honesty and integrity; respect for diversity; engagement in the community; and a commitment to reason, not violence. The pledge, as well as the other work by the President’s Task Force on Nonviolence and Conflict Resolution, came as an outpouring of grief and resolve from the tragic death of Lady Raiders basketball player Tina Stewart.

True Blue has been in use for centuries. We have used it from time to time, as have other colleges, professional sports teams and others sharing blue as a signature color. Its roots go back to the Middle Ages, so in that sense, the phrase is perhaps is owned by no one – or perhaps everyone. I would like to think that with its core definition of loyalty and faithfulness, it takes on the characteristics of the entity putting it forward.

We were overwhelmed by the response that True Blue has received on campus since its debut. Our Student Government Association adopted it as its official motto and redesigned its seal to emphasize True Blue. The pledge was incorporated into numerous student and civic events as a reflection of school pride and values. Students produced videos on what it means to be True Blue as class projects. Omicron Delta Kappa planned a True Blue Leadership Day as its core activity for the year. Athletics singled out its top players with its first True Blue Leadership Awards.

True Blue was not intended to be a marketing slogan – and perhaps that is why it has connected with some more deeply than just a catch phrase. It sprang from a tragedy and now stands for the very best of what we expect from one another.

Improvements, Pay Raises Also In Governor’s Budget Proposal

The governor’s budget proposal also included several other projects of interest to the University community. It recommends a 2.1 percent reduction, or $1.6 million, in our state budget appropriation. This reduction is significantly less than the 5 percent reduction that was under consideration last fall. And it is likely that the impact of that reduction will be mitigated by a non-recurring payment from the “hold harmless provisions” in the new outcomes-based formula. I will be meeting soon with the provost, deans and vice presidents to discuss budget needs and challenges and, as always, we will make efforts to minimize the effect of these potential changes.

The proposal recommends a 2.5 percent salary increase for all state employees, including employees of the higher education systems, effective July 1. As usually the case, it will not be fully funded and higher education institutions will be required to find a portion of that increase.

Last but not least, the proposal included $5,320,000 for four capital maintenance projects:

  • $2,140,000 for underground electrical updates;
  • $1,620,000 for updates to heating and air conditioning in the Murphy Center;
  • $1,050,000 to replace the Walker Library roof;
  • And $510,000 for water and sewer system updates.

As you can imagine, the governor’s budget proposal has recommendations that affect many state entities who interact with the University, so we are working to learn whether there are other potential impacts that we need to consider. I will keep you informed as we know more on the budget as it moves through the legislature and towards approval.

Good News On Our Science Building

The University received some very good news from Governor Bill Haslam when he announced that our long-awaited and much-needed Science Building project was included in his 2012-2013 Budget Proposal. I was honored to be on the House floor at the Capitol as the invited guest of Representative Joe Carr (48th District)  for the governor’s State of the State address. And I personally witnessed the positive response that  came from legislators — led by our own local senators and representatives – when the governor voiced his support for the building.

We are grateful to the governor for recognizing the importance of the Science Building and including a recommendation for $126.7 million in his budget for its construction. The next step is for the legislature to deliberate and approve the governor’s budget recommendation.  This is typically done at the end of the legislative session, which usually wraps up in late April or early May.  Under the proposed funding plan, the University will be expected to provide $18.75 million toward the project’s cost.  In anticipation of this requirement, we have been working to develop a plan utilizing a combination of local institutional funds, designated student fees and private gift dollars. As home to the state’s largest undergraduate student population, the Science Building is critical to our continuing efforts to provide Tennessee with graduates ready for the 21st century workforce.

We appreciate the governor’s leadership, as well as the encouragement and support we have received from the members of the General Assembly, especially the support of our area delegation – Senators Bill Ketron and Jim Tracy and Representatives Joe Carr, Pat Marsh, Mike Sparks, and Rick Womick.  We also appreciate the support of Representative Charles Michael Sargent , chair of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee;  Senator Randy McNally, chair of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee; and our local mayors, Murfreesboro City Mayor Tommy Bragg and County Mayor Ernest Burgess.  This funding proposal would not have happened without these individuals.   And we thank the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission for their help in moving this project forward.

Science Building Remains No. 1 Priority

In September, Gov. Bill Haslam asked the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to request that the Tennessee Board of Regents and University of Tennessee systems conduct a review of their priority lists of existing capital outlay and maintenance projects. This request by the governor was made to ensure that the projects were consistent with the goals of the Complete College Tennessee Act (CCTA), which was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law in January 2010.

The capital priorities assessments were completed by the two systems in early December and submitted to THEC. The assessments were based on recommended plans for the two systems developed by THEC in its 2012–13 Capital Projects Recommendation and Five-Year Capital Projects Plan, which was formally approved and sent to the Department of Finance and Administration.

I am pleased to report that after these assessments, our proposed Science Building remains MTSU’s number one capital outlay funding request; the number one request of the TBR system; and THEC’s top recommended capital outlay project.

The THEC Five-Year Capital Projects Plan includes an institutional matching component for capital outlay projects applicable to the first $75 million of a project. Matching funds can come from private gifts, grants, insti- tutional matching funds, student fees, and other sources. THEC intends for UT and TBR to have flexibility to craft specific parameters of the matching component. For universities, including MTSU, the match is 25 percent. So, with the MTSU Science Building project at $126.6 million and the match being 25 percent of the first $75 million, the match for MTSU will be $18.75 million. We are working diligently on a plan to have the matching funds if state funding is provided.

We are hopeful that funding for the Science Building will be included in the governor’s proposed budget and funding will come from the General Assembly.

MTSU’s Tobacco-Free Policy

MTSU has joined approximately 250 institutions of higher education across the country in becoming a tobacco-free campus. Effective January 1, 2012, MTSU policy prohibits the use of all forms of tobacco products anywhere on University grounds.

A tobacco-free campus helps provide a healthier living, working, and learning environment. It also improves the overall campus aesthetic—the litter of cigarette butts and smokeless tobacco containers can often be a blight on the campus’s appearance. The University’s commitment to preparing graduates who are in demand by companies and organizations is also a factor. As health care costs escalate, more companies are asking about the tobacco use of current and potential employees.

The transition to a tobacco-free campus will be worth the short-term obstacles. Good health is essential to fully meeting one’s academic and professional potential. MTSU is proactively addressing the number-one health risk in the U.S. and creating a more vibrant environment for its next 100 years.

The policy, finalized six months ago, was implemented January 1 to allow time for educating the MTSU community about the new policy and for the University to provide support to those wishing to cease tobacco use.

Additional information and cessation resources can be found at http://www.mtsu.edu/tobaccofree

MTSU Adopts ‘Tobacco-Free Campus’ Policy

On June 15, the University announced it will join other institutions across the state and nation in establishing a “tobacco-free campus” policy that will restrict the use of all forms of tobacco on MTSU property. Here is President Sidney A. McPhee’s note to the University community that explains how the policy will be implemented.

June 15, 2011

To the University community,

Several revisions to our policies and recommendations were released today. Among them is a policy for our campus to become tobacco free, meaning the use of all forms of tobacco products will be prohibited on University property.  This policy becomes effective July 1, the beginning of our new fiscal year.

As you may know, Tennessee law already prohibits smoking in all buildings owned or operated by the state, which includes any University owned or leased facilities, vehicles and athletic venues. The old policy previously allowed smoking 20 feet away from doorways, windows, ventilation systems, walkways and gates.

Our new policy will restrict the use of all forms of tobacco products including, but not limited to, cigarettes, pipes, cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff, as well as smokeless electronic cigarettes and other similar devices. It does allow the use of tobacco products in private vehicles. You can read the complete policy here: http://www.mtsu.edu/policies/pdfs/CampusSmokingPolicy.pdf

We at MTSU are not alone in making such a move. More than 400 colleges and universities across the nation are completely smoke-free on their campuses. Across the state, universities like Austin Peay, Tennessee Tech and East Tennessee State have enacted similar policies.

However, while our new policy technically goes into effect July 1, I have asked that implementation be delayed until Jan. 1, 2012, to allow a period of transition for us to educate the University community about the policy and provide support to those who wish to cease tobacco usage.

More information will be coming shortly from our various groups working on implementation. Meanwhile, if you would like to learn more about resources currently available, please visit our MTSU Health Promotion website at http://www.mtsu.edu/healthpro/tobacco.shtml.

Sincerely,
Sidney A. McPhee
President
Middle Tennessee State University