Despite the unexpected change in the presidency at the University of Central Missouri, this year is not merely a bridge to next year and the school’s interim president is not simply keeping the seat warm.
Roger Best, who assumed the role of interim president on Aug. 1, delivered his first State of the University Address Wednesday and outlined six areas of focus for the university over the next academic year: Sustainable financial and operating structure, academic program quality, institutional culture, alumni engagement and fundraising, growing enrollment, and marketing and branding.
He unveiled UCM’s new marketing campaign, “Opportunity in Action,” with a new academic mark to be used in conjunction with other marketing and branding insignia like the Mule head.
Best said the previous “Choose Red” marketing campaign is being phased out and replaced with the “Opportunity in Action” campaign designed to run through the university’s sesquicentennial in 2021 This campaign is already in use internally and will be launched externally in September.
He highlighted some of the recent history of the university’s budget – a large and unexpected increase in tuition revenue in fiscal year 2016 due to a surge of international graduate students, followed by the large and unexpected decrease in international graduate students in fiscal year 2017 and the cuts and withholds in state appropriations from the administration of former Gov. Eric Greitens in fiscal year 2018.
Best then revealed a fact sure to induce a sigh of relief from the campus community after the last few years: The university is operating from a balanced budget for fiscal year 2019.
Best said the university projected approximately $35 million in tuition revenue for the fall 2018 semester. He said tuition revenue is currently at about 99.15 percent of that target, and more revenue is expected to come throughout the fall semester, making it likely the university will match the projection.
He said that while he’s not 100 percent certain the state appropriations allocated to the university will remain, he said he was confident they will.
However, Best said the upcoming census report will show a decline in enrollment.
“We will be down in terms of first-time, full-time freshmen,” he said. “We will be down in graduate international, as we all expected. We’ll be down in retention compared to last year.”
He said Enrollment Management staff are working on an analysis of enrollment numbers to find out what led to those declines, but cited factors including increased competition from both in-state and out-of-state colleges and universities, declining population of Missouri high school graduates and an improving economy, which adversely affects enrollment in four-year universities.
Best said the university’s goal is to get to 80 percent retention – a goal the administration first introduced last year – and achieving such a high rate of retention would make UCM comparably elite in terms of student retention. He said the reconfiguration of academic advising and the inclusion of other support services will help the university move toward that goal.
In closing, Best looked at the coming months and challenged himself and the campus community to continue to move forward.
“My challenge to you is to always think about how we can improve,” he said. “To always look for those alternatives when the external pushes against us. I’m going to refuse to use some clichés such as, ‘Our best days are in front of us.’ I will say, however, that those days are what we make of them. I have tremendous confidence in our Board of Governors and in each of you. I can think of no others for whom I’d want to serve. So, let’s continue to plant seeds, let’s dream about what’s possible, and let’s make it happen.”