Review takes aim at low enrollment, class costs

Amye Buckley

Benefits to cost ratio was part of the preliminary analysis of international mission presented to Faculty Senate during the Oct. 6 meeting.

“The kind of review that we’re looking at here is going to be done across the disciplines,” said University President Bruce Speck.

A five-year review will be rolled out campus wide, but administrators did not have an answer for which programs will be next.

“Departments that are small will come under closer scrutiny,” said Dr. John Messick, vice president for academic affairs.

Enrollment was a large part of the discussion. Part of the presentation included average enrollment figures for degree programs. The mean class size is 20, according to Messick. Criminal justice had the highest enrollment per class at more than 35. Classes with an enrollment less than 10 during the last three semesters were: Russian, Arabic, computer assisted manufacturing technology, English as a second language, Chinese, computer aided drafting and design, justice studies, Japanese, industrial engineering technology and German.

“One of the things we have to ask ourselves is when you put dollars into something what are you getting out of it,” Speck said.

A task force connected with the Strategic Planning Committee will further analyze the international mission.

Faculty members asked if this year’s steep cut to the international mission would disappear in the next fiscal budget.

“Any talk now about restoration is premature in my view,” Speck said, citing economic downturns. “I don’t think we are in a situation where we have to let this [international mission] die, but we will not see an increase in state funding.”

Speck focused on external fundraising and grants noting that all departments should attempt to raise funds.

The data driven presentation was difficult to pull together. Not only has Southern switched from Legacy to Banner during the time period in question, but Speck said budgetary lines were not clear during the previous administration.

“The numbers that Dr. Speck presented were accurate, but they tell only part of the story,” said Dr. Chad Stebbins, director of international studies. “The presentation didn’t have any qualitative data, for example, showing the human side of mission enhancement. We have around 2,500 reports, from students and faculty, showing how a study abroad experience enriched their lives.

The ‘mission enhancement’ funds appropriated to the international mission stem from its inception in 1995 and House Bill 442.

“Mission enhancement is a very broad term,” Speck said. “The funds for mission enhancement were intended for multiple purposes from the very start.”

Programs directly associated with the international mission received mission enhancement funds, but each year part of the money went elsewhere.

Speck cited distance learning programs as one area that benefited from the state money saying the spread of funds is still difficult to track because of the accounting practices.

“That money was spread all over the University in all kinds of ways,” Speck said.

During budget cuts this summer the international mission budget – one of the five largest on campus – was targeted for cuts because funding had been viewed as “discretionary” by the previous administration.

Speck cited result-oriented programs he had participated in at other institutions and deferred to further analysis any questions about the international mission’s future.

“We’re looking at a very difficult economic situation,” Speck said. “And we need to think critically about how we are going to allocate these resources.”

For some of the faculty the international mission has become one of the defining characteristics of the University.

“There are numerous benefits to having an international mission that you can’t put a price tag on,” Stebbins said. “It provides a distinctive element for MSSU and enables the University to attract students and faculty it might not otherwise and our outreach programs impact hundreds of people every year.”

Numbers Speck has viewed indicate a loss of 200 students in enrollment this year and 200 the year before that. The drop off in enrollment may also affect the financial status of the University. He listed retention rates in the lower 30 percent.

“You keep draining your student body at that rate and you’re going to have some real problems,” Speck said.