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Education news and issues in the Ozarks.

Better Retention Rates, Facility Upgrades will “Raise MSU’s Profile”

Scott Harvey

Missouri State University aims to boost retention rates of first-time, full-time students moving forward. The goal was among several announced Monday by President Clif Smart during his annual State of the University address, under the theme “Raising the Profile of the University.”

Since 2009, student retention rates have hovered around 75 percent. The school is hoping to increase that figure to at least 80 percent, the rate of MSU’s three main public competitors, according to Smart.

“I think part of the solution will come from helping students make better connections during the first several weeks of school. Thus we are re-tooling our orientation, family programs and living-learning communities,” Smart said.

He added that other solutions include better connecting students to academic departments and evaluating how to improve advising.

Provost Dr. Frank Einhellig, who delivered half of Monday’s address, said students who’ve yet to declare a major are more at risk of dropping out. He’s asked the schools deans and advisors to reach out to these students, and perhaps allow them to explore others courses.

“I think trying a course in an area of interest could be an attractive way to help students relate to the university. And I also would point out that our of GEP 101 classes now have several of them related to the majors of a particular college, and we think that will help us as well,” Einhellig said.

Einhellig says retention will be a challenge for not only this year but years to come. Statistics show that from fall 2013 to fall 2014, 683 first time freshmen did not return. Counting all grades, that number is 2,767.

Aside from retention, the presentation highlighted many bright spots for the school, including a record fall enrollment, a jump in full-time faculty, and several new academic programs.

The school has eight goals for the 2014-2015 school year, including access to students, public affairs integration, and engaged inquiry.  

Smart said facility improvements will continue to be a top priority of the Missouri State University Board of Governors this year, as it was last year. Ho noted the upgraded athletic facilities as the result of the BEAR fee.

“Now we have the profile of a Division 1 school, and that makes a difference in student recruitment and in our community profile.”

Outside of athletics, MSU is constructing a new welcome center, and a new facility to house the school’s occupational therapy, nurse anesthesia and the physician’s assistant programs. Renovations are underway at Pummill Hall, the Morris Center downtown, Sunvilla Towers, and the Meyer Library.

“The following year we move to expanding laboratory spaces and the renovation of some of our older academic buildings if revenue bonds are issued by the state. That will be our top legislative priority this year, and I’m hopeful we can be successful in that goal.”

Smart said he is pleased with MSU’s ethnic diversity amongst students, which has risen by more than 1,500 students over the past five years (4,154 total), but notes that same diversity is lacking amongst faculty and staff.

“Our students are entitled to interact with faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds, and with diverse life experiences and diverse ideas,” Smart says. “The conversations, discussions and experiences will be much richer if we can make progress on this front. And it’s important because of the globalization of our world and it is part of cultural competence.”

Smart concluded by focusing on the university’s strategic plan, dubbed The Missouri State Vision: Our Passion for Excellence. MSU’s current long-range plan runs through June 2016. The new plan will take about two years to complete, to be done in phases, Smart said.  The steering committee for the strategic visioning process will meet for the first time on Thursday.

“We will then present the report at the August 2015 Board of Governors retreat for their discussion and approval. Once finalized the report will provide a foundation for developing the long-range plan for 2016-2021, and with the foundation established we will be able to concentrate our work on the specific goals and tactics for the next five year period.”

You can watch the entire speech and view the accompanying slides here. KSMU will air the speech beginning at 7 p.m. Monday, and Ozarks Public Television will show the speech on Sunday, Oct. 5 at 4 p.m.