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2015 Opening Day Celebration

August 21, 2015
Dr Kenneth S. Hawkinson, president

Welcome to the 2015-16 academic year at Kutztown University.   I am excited to begin my first year as the president of this great institution. 

Let me begin by thanking the entire university and the Kutztown community for the warm reception we have received since our arrival.  My wife, Ann Marie, and I are very appreciative for the graciousness you have all shown us.  I fully recognize the honor I have been given to be named the 12th president of Kutztown University.

As you all know, the Borough of Kutztown is currently celebrating its bicentennial year and next year, Kutztown University will celebrate its sesquicentennial, or 150th year celebration.  These milestones are not only times of celebration but also times for reflection - on all the contributions our community and university have made to enhance the lives of its citizens and students over these many years.  These milestones also remind us of the responsibility we have to continue to provide a quality educational experience and enriching community to future populations.  To continue to make Kutztown a "place" where future students, faculty, and citizens will want to work, learn, and lead fulfilling lives.

When I interviewed for this position, I was asked by the search committee to address the following areas: 

  • Future Opportunities and Challenges within Higher Education and Role of Kutztown
  • Enrollment and Retention Strategies/Academic Excellence
  • Responsible Budgeting and Fiscal Management
  • Faculty and Staff Recruitment, Retention, and Development
  • Advocacy for Diversity Initiatives
  • Engagement of Alumni

These are the topics KU identified as being at the top of the agenda for a new president.  And so, these will be at the top of my agenda for the coming year.  As I go through each topic, I want to talk about how we will work together to turn concepts into action. 

Let me first talk about process - I recognize how important it is for me to become familiar with all aspects of the university and community before determining future directions.  My intent is not so much to "hit the ground running" but to "hit the ground learning." 

So, I will do the following in my first 150 days as president:

  1. Visit all units and constituencies on campus
  2. Establish roundtable/advisory groups (made up of those engaged in the search or transition process)
  3. Meet with local/regional community and government leaders
  4. Reinstitute a joint university/Kutztown council
  5. Meet regularly with faculty and employee governance leaders and groups as well as student leaders and groups
  6. Continue the strategic planning process and make sure it is completed this year
  7. Establish a planning process that is "bottom-up," based on the strategic plan, and that will provide the basis for university initiatives and the allocation of university resources (this process will include identifying our programs and areas of distinction for next year)
  8. Learn the State System and develop a strong relationship with the chancellor, his staff, the board of governors, and the other 13 presidents in the system
  9. Visit top donors and alumni

Indeed, by doing these things I will hit the ground learning and will be well prepared to move forward on the initiatives I will go over in this presentation, as well as other initiatives that will spring forward from the meetings I will have with you.

So, let's look at these topics:

Future Opportunities and Challenges within Higher Education and Role of Kutztown
The traditional university will be in existence 25 years from now and KU, a strong and vibrant comprehensive university, is on the vanguard of providing a traditional university experience to students.  

Let me first say that we must double-down on what we do well.  A high percentage of KU students are first generation college students and KU is well situated to recruit and serve the needs of these student populations. 

It is essential that while we will experiment with new courses and programs we are, and always should be, at our foundation, a university that requires a strong general/liberal education that prepares all our graduates not only for a job, but also prepares them to lead fulfilling lives wherein they can think critically, discern what is true and not true, and what is right and wrong. 

As universities have done for a thousand years, we must continue to put an emphasis in educating the "whole person" - to create individuals who contribute to their society and have a firm understanding of themselves, others and the world.

This said, we must also recognize the changing demographic of our student population and work hard to serve non-traditional students so that they have the opportunity for educational and personal growth though a college education.

These students will require additional models of delivery and special support services to ensure they have access to a college education.

We need to continue to adapt to their needs by looking at the following:

  • Increase non-traditional delivery methods through distance learning, weekend academy, and evening courses
  • Look at non-traditional semesters and clusters of courses that better serve the needs of students who hold full time jobs Extension programs - place bound students will need to have us take courses to them
  • Establish additional certificates and specialized programs that address the needs of professionals in the work force
  • Offer courses for non-degree seeking students that meet their personal and professional needs

Enrollment and Retention Strategies/Academic Excellence
Nearly all universities are facing falling enrollments resulting from demographics, the rising costs of education, falling state support, the recession, and other factors.

But many universities are continuing to recruit and retain students by initiating "best practices" and initiatives that have proven successful. 

I propose that, together, we look at the following initiatives:

  • Significantly enhance the Honors Program and establish an honors scholarship for the best students  - KU currently has very few students with combined SAT scores over 1350 (less than 20)...we need to significantly increase this number.  So, working with the acting provost and cabinet, and approved by our council of trustees executive committee, I am pleased to announce the establishment of a new scholarship to be called the Sesquicentennial Academic Honors Scholarship  -- it will offer students $7,000 a year or $28,000 over four years. Awardees will have to be members of the Honors Program and live in the residence halls their first three years so as to serve as on-campus role-models to their fellow students. 
  • Established scholarships for other high achieving students - Our institution needs to devote additional resources, and the foundation will be raising money, for other scholarship programs that will address both merit and need.
  • We have also established an incentive for transfer students - a $500 book award for any transfer student with an associate degree.
  • We need to raise admission standards overall - it should be gradual with opportunities for students to demonstrate college readiness by means in addition to SAT and GPA - but we should not accept students who are not prepared to succeed in college.  And for those students who can demonstrate readiness by means in addition to SAT and GPA, they must be provided additional support to help them succeed.  Dr. Zayaitz is working with CASA to identify additional initiatives we can put in place to help students who fall into this category.
  • We need to move forward in filling the vacant vice president position -- this individual will be an expert in enrollment management and we will discuss in the coming weeks whether to broaden this person's role into student affairs areas.
  • We need to broaden our recruiting initiatives to go to more high schools, recruit in other states and find ways to get more students and their families on campus - get them on campus, half will enroll.
  • International recruiting:  we need to invest in our international programs and international recruiting - this not only will increase our enrollment, but will also diversify our student body.
  • We need to develop a new marketing campaign - to do so we must better define who we are.  A consulting company will be coming in to help us find our "brand" so that we can better tell our story.  This year, look for new marketing initiatives centered around our "programs and areas of distinction" and our Sesquicentennial Celebration.
  • Enhanced webpage design (not the changes we have already made, such as featuring our academic programs of distinction and Difference Makers).
  • Identify additional avenues to reach potential students through social media.
  • I will ask for the help of each department and college by encouraging these units to develop a recruitment and retention plan, for both domestic and international students, both graduate and undergraduate (as appropriate). I will provide resources to help with departments and colleges in these efforts.
  • We will work with community colleges to increase two- plus-two programs.
  • We will work with four-year schools on building integrated bachelor's to master's programs.
  • Review our first-year experience program to ensure all students have the help they need to succeed.
  • We need to work harder to recruit new students, and we need to be aware of some simple facts that help us to retain the students we have recruited:
    • Higher achieving students have higher retention rates
    • Financially stable students have higher retention rates
    • Students with jobs on campus have higher retention rates
    • International students have higher retention rates
    • Students active in sports, the arts, student organizations, and active learning have higher retention rates
    We need to do all we can to recruit more students who fall into these categories.
  • We need to look at national trends and apply best practices to everything we do.  We have to experiment and take risk.
  • If we do this, enrollment and retention will go up and we will have students who are prepared to meet the expectations of their professors.

Responsible Budgeting and Fiscal Management
Since the great recession that hit our country seven years ago, virtually all universities are struggling financially.  I know the funding in Pennsylvania for higher education has dropped drastically, and we are now in a fiscal impasse at the state level.  There has been an increase in unfunded mandates, falling enrollment at most State System schools, and financial aid has not kept up with rising costs.  Kutztown University has made many sacrifices in recent years and the result is that we are in better financial health than many other schools in the system.  Even so, we will be in deficit again this year and must do all we can to contain costs.

  • We must scrutinize all spending to ensure it is essential
  • We must continue to review programs with low enrollments while at the same time, we must invest in growing programs
  • Decisions must be data-driven with regard to hiring new or replacement faculty and staff
  • I can state today that, because of our good fiscal management these past years, there will be no lay-offs this coming year (FY 16) based on budget shortfalls

But we cannot only cut our way out of a fiscal crisis.  We must do all we can to "grow" our way out, by doing such things as:

  • The many enrollment and retention initiatives discussed earlier (100 students represent $1 million dollars a year in tuition and fees alone)
  • Increase initiatives in grant writing
  • Encourage colleges and other divisions to develop fundraising plans and initiatives  (this money would largely stay in the colleges and departments to fund unit initiatives)
  • Increase corporate giving - I will meet with regional corporate leaders
  • KU must begin the planning for a major capital campaign (I will ask each college to establish a distinguished alumni - friend of the college advisory board to help the college raise money to support expanded student and faculty programs)

Faculty and Staff Recruitment, Retention, and Development
There is no finer place to work than on a college campus.

The university should provide fair pay, and an opportunity for development and advancement - a place where faculty are supported in their teaching, research and service.

The university must promote a positive environment wherein all are excited about their work, are fulfilled by their careers, and are engaged in the mission of the institution.

We need to create additional opportunities to recognize faculty and staff that are doing great things (for example:  I ask that all current faculty with a scholarly book in print who are willing to share it - send a copy to me and I will put it on display in the president's house).

We need to provide incentives, as the contract allows, for such things as research money and travel. 

We need to support faculty/staff development programs so that assistance is available for those who request it in teaching, research, and in working with technology.

We need to ensure faculty is supported in their effort to write and receive grants.

Appropriate technology should be available to support teaching and research.

All employees should have the opportunity to evaluate their supervisors through a 360-degree evaluation system for administrators who manage units.

Working through the faculty governance system, and through regular meetings and open houses, we must make sure that the voices of faculty and staff are heard and that they are full participants in the decision making of the university.

Advocacy for Diversity Initiatives
KU has had some success in increasing our diversity but we need to do more.

We must increase student diversity: by developing relationships with urban schools and by going into diverse communities and providing role models, so as to inspire young people to go to college

We need to do more to diversify our faculty through special programs that provide an incentive to attract diverse candidates to our university.

We need to ensure diverse students, faculty, and staff are supported on campus and in the community.

Engagement of Alumni
We will have a dynamic alumni events calendar with activities around the country

We will identify "opinion leaders" among alumni and, out of their loyalty to KU, ask them to serve as KU ambassadors

We will enhance our efforts to get alumni to come back!  Sporting events, fine arts events, speaking to classes, special receptions.

We need to recognize alumni through awards, talk about them in newsletters - they want to help and we need to find ways to help them to help us.

Kutztown has the goal of greatly increasing the funds raised through giving, and it is through a university's relationship with alumni that these fundraising goals are met.

So, these are the initiatives I place before you as we move into this new academic year.  To address the many challenges before us requires collaboration among many different stakeholders.  Most certainly the students, faculty and staff must be a major force in deciding the directions we will go - so too, the many other stakeholders associated with the university must be consulted - alumni, parents, community members, legislators, and others. 

We must be bold as we move forward, but at the same time we must be measured and ensure that our decisions are data-driven, benchmarked against best practices and other institutions, and have broad consensus.  Paul Robson said "to be bold... we must leave our chains behind us."  He was speaking of the civil rights movement of the 1930s.  So too, does this apply to us today.  To be bold, we must not be tied down in past practices that no longer work or prevent us from moving forward with new ideas that will benefit our students and our institution.

You have heard me say that there are two times to plant a tree - the best time was 25 years ago.  The second best time is now.  So, in making decisions we must strive to do things in the present while considering how those decisions will contribute to building a firm foundation for future stakeholders. 

Soon after Ann Marie and I arrived we went to a special event in the community and met an alumna named Erica.  She graduated with a BSW and master's in social work.  She spoke of her gratefulness to her professors and her love for the university.  She mentioned that she came from a town in the area which used to have a billboard at the entrance that said "through these doors walk some of the world's most important people."

"Through these doors walk some of the world's most important people."

So too, shall this be at Kutztown University.  There are many great universities in the state and country, but KU is OUR university and has a uniqueness that only those who have worked here, or have gone to school here, can understand.  As we welcome our new students and our new employees, we must do all we can to make them feel that indeed, when they walk through our doors, they will count as among the world's most important people.  We must prove to them that they have made the right choice... and have come to the right place.

If we can do this, we will have created a learning environment that will change lives for the better.  Like this alumna I met, our students will be inspired to become a part of our history, share our values, and play a role in our future. And through this association, they will feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.  These most important of people will come together, and engage our institution with a selflessness that can only lead to more positive and fulfilling lives. 

And so this concludes our Opening Day Celebration.  My best wishes to you all!  Have a great year!