Murray State University President Dr. Bob Davies recently stopped by WKMS as part of a regular conversation addressing various things at MSU. This month, Davies reflects on his past three years as president, the outcomes of the Institute of Engineering pilot study, how a recent Math Day for high school students goes beyond crunching numbers, navigating recent legislation, tuition planning, an upcoming alumni event and diversity efforts.
Reflecting on three years serving as Murray State President, Davies said honored to be part of the university. He praised the work of faculty and staff and addressed the challenges in the higher ed landscape, such as funding. "Universities have never had enough money to do what they always want to do to begin with, but with the reductions that have occurred throughout the state... the increase of technology costs... dealing with declining flat state revenues and increased cost structures, finding ways of dealing with that and moving forward." He also said accountability measures have changed over time and nimbleness, innovation and flexibility are change aspects that have been gaining attention.
One of example of finding innovations in higher ed involve the Institute of Engineering Pilot Study, an effort to integrate programs across traditional departments (like business and agriculture) and cultivating internship opportunities with local businesses (the "Test Drive a Racer" program).
Several new laws are on the books with regards to higher education with the close of the legislative session last week. Performance funding establishes metrics for universities to compete for a portion of state appropriation. Davies said there is an emphasis on the number of STEM degrees awarded, but doesn't want Murray State to become a STEM-only school or a 'diploma mill.'
The 'governor board bill' gives the governor the authority to replace board members or overhaul an entire board. Davies said this won't affect MSU too much. Regent Jenny Sewell's position is up this year and the new law sets guidelines for a balanced board make-up. Her position would be filled by an Independent or Democrat and will likely be female. The bill also defines the process of removing board members, which Murray State doesn't have on the books, so this law would clarify that rule.
The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education approved a 3% to 5% limit on tuition increases for the upcoming school year. Murray State was initially approved for a 3% cap, but has since been approved for 5%. Davies said the CPE leadership team met with Governor Matt Bevin to discuss tuition and forecasting. "I think it's important that you never look at tuition as a one-year decision. Tuition is a multiple year decision and a very strategic decision," He said. Going back 20 years, the comprehensive tuition rates were almost the same, but since then some chose higher tuition rates over others (like Murray State). He said those decisions were possible when state appropriations were fairly predictable. However, given recent changes those that chose to go low are at a disadvantage. CPE is working to give some flexibility to institutions to close that gap.
According to Davies, Bevin said in a meeting that given challenges with the pension over the next several years, specifically the next biennium, and taking the average pension increases over the past ten years, there will be a projected pension increase or state appropriation decline in addition to fixed cost increases - or all three at the same time. "So instead of three percent cap, we have a five percent cap, understanding that that two percent difference is to be used to offset future cost increases and or declines in state appropriations or pension pressure points." In other words, a "savings account" against future challenges.
A discussion on tuition will be held with the MSU Student Government Association, the budget advisory committee and a forum on April 6 at 2 p.m. in Wrather Museum. MSU will then make the recommendation to the Board of Regents on April 21.
Also on April 21 will be some dedications at the Institute of Engineering and the Distinguished Alumni Dinner.
On April 7 is the Diversity Achievement Awards at Murray State. "Diversity and inclusion is a reflection of excellence," Davies said, "At any organization level, we need to be surrounding ourselves with diverse thoughts and ideas, we need to be surrounding ourselves with people of different paradigms and different thoughts. And as we expect our students to compete upon graduation on the global front we need to make sure that they have that opportunity here." He said diversity efforts should be intention and strategic and include, race, religion, gender identity and abilities and disabilities.