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Semester transition, budget concerns top trustees' agenda

Oct 3, 2008  
By Monica Chapman and Casey S. Elliott  

The Ohio University Board of Trustees today approved the conversion to a semester system, effective with the 2012-13 academic year. Ohio University is the first of the four universities in Ohio still on quarters to get board approval for making the switch.

Academics Committee Chairwoman M. Marnette Perry briefed trustees on recent events surrounding the transition, praising the work of the transition team comprising stakeholders from across the university and a community member.

One of the benefits of the transition, according to the board, will be the opportunity to review and transform the university's current academic programs.

"I am highly impressed with the detail of the planning documents," Chairman C. Daniel DeLawder said. "It's an opportunity for us to change and a chance to advance our curriculum."

When asked about the costs of the transition, Perry said the numbers are still fluctuating, but estimates stand at about $2 million. Kathy Krendl, in a press conference following the meeting, said the transition team will look at best practices and other factors to arrive at a firm number. One thing she and President Roderick J. McDavis emphasized was the team's focus on student advising and tools to make the transition smooth.

"They're developing a plan, and what's most important is we want to make sure that whatever we develop won't have a negative impact on the students of Ohio University," McDavis said.

He also recounted his personal experience in the press conference following the meeting.

"I was part of the student body in 1968 when the university transitioned from semesters to quarters and as a rising junior, I barely noticed," he said.  "Being a former student who went through the transition, I can say firsthand that it did not have an adverse effect, and we're going to make sure that it won't have an adverse effect on the next set of students."

DeLawder, an Ohio University sophomore at the time, recounted the same experience.

Financial picture

Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur updated the board on the university budget in light of the current economic situation. Decatur reviewed the state's latest $540 million budget adjustment, bringing total state budget reductions to $1.27 billion this fiscal year.

Although some specific programs and projects did take a hit, with cuts totaling more than $845,000, Decatur said most of  Ohio University's state allocation for fiscal year 2009 remained intact. He added that a budget contingency plan is being developed in case the state can't fulfill its promises.

"We're very concerned that if there is another cut, higher education will not be exempted again," Decatur said.

Decatur briefed board members on last week's hiring freeze, a measure "to generate one-time savings and to capture and identify and hold savings." He told board members that savings targets will be provided to every planning unit by the end of the quarter.

When asked about the impact of the credit crisis on the university balance sheet, Decatur said Ohio University has had no exposure with respect to firms who have gone out of business, although a $9 million hedge fund -- one of the university's long-term investments -- is currently locked up through Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy proceedings but not otherwise vulnerable. The university does not anticipate needing ready access to those funds.

"We're as well-positioned as anyone could be in the times that we're in, and that reflects the great groundwork that has been laid," Resources Committee Chair Larry Schey said.

Decatur also discussed University Courtyard on Richland Ave., which Housing for Ohio -- with The Ohio University Foundation as the sole shareholder -- owns and financed with a variable-rate bond.  Because of the current market problems, it may not be possible for Housing for Ohio to continue its bond funding unless the market levels out. The university considers the student housing project, with 99 percent occupancy, to be an invaluable resource for housing Ohio University students. In the event that market changes prevent Housing for Ohio to continue operating in the black, The Ohio University Foundation may need to take ownership and obtain financing for it, Decatur said.

"Ideally the best thing that could happen is a calming down of the markets, and we could keep this project the way it is," Decatur said.

The Resources Committee will meet later in the fall to discuss this in the context of other financing related to information technology investments.

Good enrollment news

In her report, Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl touted Ohio University's gains in retention and enrollment. Preliminary data from the Office of Institutional Research indicates enrollment on all campuses is 29,486 this fall, up 578 students from a year ago.

The university's goal was to stabilize retention at 78 percent, but instead it rose to 80 percent. Krendl highlighted one-time financial investments in retention programs as contributors to the increase. Those programs include the attendance tracking project, student readiness inventory, learning community expansion, international student airport shuttle, the Allen Help Center and University College 115 enhancement.

Regarding future retention, Krendl said the climate is expected to become more competitive as universities target a shrinking pool of students in Ohio. Academic year 2008-09 marks the first year in a predicted decade-long demographic decline in high school graduates in Ohio.

Strong retention numbers can be attributed to efforts of people across the university, Krendl said.

"Everybody owns a piece of retention," said Krendl. "It's everybody working together, and we've realized the interdependence of these offices in working together."

In addition, strategic investments in recruitment for academic year 2007-08 had an impact on enrollment, Krendl said. Those investments went to campus-visit programs, international recruitment, "The Promise" multimedia marketing campaign, territory management strategies and tele-recruiting.

Increases in out-of-state, transfer, multicultural, international and regional campus students were factors in strong enrollment numbers for this academic year. Particularly notable, transfer enrollment and multicultural first-year student enrollment both were up 17 percent.

Applications hit a record high, including an 8 percent increase in transfer student applications and a 9 percent increase in out-of-state applications, according to Krendl.

"We had more applications than we've ever had in the history of Ohio University," she said.

Other news

In the president's report, McDavis said year one of the Five Year Vision OHIO Implementation Plan aligns the university's investments with top institutional priorities, emphasizing key outcomes the university will aim for in the areas of recruitment, retention, educational attainment and information technology infrastructure.

"(These outcomes) will happen by a lot of people stepping up and saying, 'We want Ohio University to be the very best that it can be,'" McDavis said.

Representatives from the Resources Committee, Governance Committee, Academics Committee, Audit Committee and Executive Committee also reported to the board on their respective meetings, which took place Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

In other business, the board approved:

  • Hiring consultants and developing construction documents and bid and award contracts for fiscal year 2009-10 major capital projects and basic renovations on the Athens and regional campuses. Although these projects were approved by the board last September, they required reapproval to reflect revised allocations from the state

  • The House Bill 251 Implementation Plan for Ohio University, which focuses on sustainability and energy efficiency. (See related story.)

  • The purchase of three parcels of land, totaling approximately three acres, near the Ohio University Airport, 95 percent of which will be paid for by a Federal Aviation Administration grant

  • The purchase of 15 Park Place, the former home of the Sigma Chi fraternity, with a $2 million gift from an unspecified donor. Of that, $700,000 will go toward the purchase price and the remainder will go toward renovations to house a new international center for the university

  • Conferring emeritus/emerita status on seven individuals following their retirement

  • The board of directors for the Kennedy Museum of Art


Related Links
Ohio University Board of Trustees:  http://www.ohio.edu/trustees/ 

Published: Oct 3, 2008 4:56 PM  

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