Chancellor discusses several University issues in first “Fireside Chat”

Chuck France/KU University RelationsChancellor Bernadette Gray-Little 

In efforts to increase conversation and information sharing between the student body and University administration, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little has agreed to a series of “Fireside Chats” with The University Daily Kansan to support a more direct line of communication.

In the first “Fireside Chat” of the semester, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little met with reporter Nikki Wentling to discuss current campus issues, progress with Bold Aspirations and the outlook for the rest of the school year.

UNIVERSITY RANKING

U.S. News & World Report released the “Best Colleges 2013” rankings on Sept. 12.  According to the report, the University is the top-ranked in Kansas.  Overall, the University scored one point less than last year, moving its ranking from 46th to 51st among public universities.

The rankings are based on criteria pulled from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Classifications. The emphasis placed on certain criteria change each year, and Gray-Little said the University would explore the changes to the criteria, as that could be a reason for the change.

“We certainly wish they had been higher,” Gray-Little said. “We are looking at the ratings to see where the changes are and what elements might have been ranked lower than they were previously.”

One of the goals of the University’s strategic plan, Bold Aspirations, is to have 21 graduate programs ranked in the top 10 of public universities. Twelve graduate programs ranked in the top 10 in the 2013 rankings.

BOLD ASPIRATIONS

Gray-Little said some goals of the Bold Aspirations plan would take up to 10 years to achieve. The University has worked on implementing programs to reinvigorate the undergraduate experience, such as a first-year seminar, the common book program and an office of undergraduate research.

“Those are things that are underway that have started already,” Gray-Little said.

Gray-Little said although the goals of Bold Aspirations are broader than trying to improve rankings, certain components will affect them.

These include: graduation rates, retention of first-year students, admission requirements and credentials of faculty.

FUTURE OUTLOOK

The University received $3 million from the state legislature this summer to hire 12 new professors. Gray-Little said the University is searching for these professors now, and some might be at the University by the Fall 2013 semester.

“I would want to see us fill a number of those foundation professorships, so we know by the end of they year who is coming,” Gray-Little said.

Gray-Little said this is the first full year the University will implement changes to its faculty and student recruiting strategy. Some changes were made last year, and the University had positive results.

“We had more applicants this year,” Gray-Little said. “We’ll continue that.”

One of the changes to recruitment that Gray-Little would like to see improved is electronic communication with potential applicants.

“For students who show some interest, we need to make sure we’re following up regularly and in a personalized way, ensuring that students who come to campus have a good experience and we put them in contact with the right people,” she said.

One of the University’s goals has already been met. This summer, the University Cancer Center earned the distinction of National Cancer Institute.

“This is something that has been a major effort at the cancer center for several years,” Gray-Little said. “There was rejoicing in the streets. That has been very, very important.”

RESPONDING TO STUDENT DEBT

In the U.S., total student loan debt exceeds total credit card debt. And, this summer, the Kansas Board of Regents approved a tuition increase at the University. This semester, incoming freshman who are residents of Kansas paid 4.9 percent more in tuition and fees. Non-resident tuition increased 5 percent.

Gray-Little said tuition has increased because of the decrease in state funding.

“That’s happened lots of places around the country,” she said. “In a public university, the rate of tuition is going up as funding from other sources is going down.”

To combat student costs, the University established the Far Above campaign, which started in April and will conclude in 2016. Part of the campaign is providing scholarships, fellowships and other financial assistance to students.
Gray-Little said that most of the scholarship money comes from donations.  The Kansas University Endowment Association reported that more than $150 million in gifts and future commitments was given to the University last year, and a record 46,257 people contributed.

“Scholarship funding is something we’re trying to use very wisely,” Gray-Little said. “We’re trying to raise more money for scholarship through the campaign; that’s one of the reasons the campaign is important.”

Gray-Little said work-study, federal and state loans are also helpful for students.

The next “Fireside Chat” is scheduled for Oct. 4.

  • Updated Sep. 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm
  • Edited by Andrew Ruszczyk