Tuition structure, state funding, reorganization of marketing efforts, athletics budget deficit, Drive to 25 impact, diverse student success

Q: I know a lot of this presentation has centered on budget. I was curious if there’s been any discussion or consideration of the way that tuition is charged for full-time students. Currently, anyone who’s going to take 10 credits or 18 credits is paying the same tuition rate. And a lot of institutions charge per credit. I think most institutions do that because it’s more accurate and the financial model generates more revenue. I’m just curious if there’s any thought on that?

Kirk Schulz: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. I’ll let Dan answer it in full.

(laughter)

So I came out of a system that did charge by credit. And the discussion we had as a senior leadership team is, ‘Can we ever go to a model that we don’t charge by credit, because we think it would help student completion rates get better?’ Instead of somebody saying, ‘Why not? If I can pay for this additional three-credit class,’ then if we did improve the academic advising, or whatever you want to call it, that gave some financial options to do that. So my only point is, we want to have those discussions, but having come from that model, we looked at the one at Washington State, and said, ‘Boy, we wish we could be like that.’

(laughter)

So, I tend to think, sometimes, it all depends on what you’re used to, what looks good. And there is always, with finances in higher ed, a little bit of the grass looks greener somewhere else.

(laughter)

Dan Bernardo: I really don’t have a lot to add, other than that we have had some discussions on that topic. I also came from two institutions that were by the credit. It’s one that we would not consider lightly because of the potential implications to the students, most importantly, but also on their own budget. But we’re going to be having some rather intensive discussions over the next couple years about how we allocate this budget, and how we generate revenue at WSU. And that’s one that has to be on the table.

 
thmtg10-pres
 

Q: Related to that revenue question, I’m wondering what WSU leadership is doing to raise the state percentage of funding? Because this is a public institution.

KS: Yeah, sort of. It’s sort of, right?

(laughter)

A couple things. We have, actually, an interesting set of ways that we go about doing this. And let me digress a little bit, because it answers your question. Dan and his staff did a great job of putting a very thoughtful process in place on capital projects. If you say, ‘What are your capital projects requests for the next decade?’ there’s actually a list that we can point to. And there’s some thought put in it.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t change, but there’s really that particular way. If you say, ‘Well, Kirk, how do you choose what you’re going to ask the state legislature to fund? What’s the strategy behind what you put on that list and what you don’t put on the list?’ I would say there are a few items that have been very strategic. And I think there’s also been some things that we just thought would be a really good idea. I want to spend some time working internally to make sure that we’re being just as strategic on our billing, and on our ask of the legislature for new funding, as we are on building projects.

Now the challenge is putting in a dose of reality. Because there may be something that we say, ‘This is awesome, and we need it.’ And our government relations people say, ‘You can put that on the list, but they will not fund that in a million years.’

So, what I think we have to do then is to make sure that list is realistic with what we can get, it’s strategic, and there’s some transparency with what we’re putting on that particular list of items to do.

With all that being said, this year our top legislative ask is for funding for the Elson Floyd School of Medicine. And that’s an $11 million base budget adjustment this year, which then doubles the year after that, because each class comes in. And so, if you extrapolate it out, that’s actually a huge, new additional budget line to Washington State University. We also have asked for some other things to support new degree programs here, and things like that.

But there’s a mixture of different items on that particular list, and I can tell you next year the list will probably be smaller, be very strategic, and people will have an opportunity to be involved and engaged in what we ask. The final thing, Dan can also comment on this, during his year as interim president, he visited a lot of elected officials. I’ve visited a lot of elected officials.

Washington State is seen as a progressive institution, doing great things for the state, with excellent relationships with legislators. And I think that’s a great position for us to be in. We just need to make sure that we’re doing the job with what we ask for, and following through with it.

Our number two priority is salaries. We asked for four percent each year, for the next two years, and that will continue to be something that we work on. And interestingly, we’ve talked to the University of Washington about some of these things, as well. Because the coordination between the two institutions is actually a positive thing, because we’re sending the same message about what we need to do.

Q: This flier that was sent out a week or so ago from your office, there was a mention in there about restructuring some of the marketing efforts. Can you talk about that a little bit?

KS: Sure. So what I sent out, and you’ll get this each year, is the goals and objectives that the Regents have approved for me as president. And I did this for seven years at Kansas State. I think it’s a really good idea, so people know what I’ll be evaluated on, what are my priorities, what types of things I’m working on. So if you saw that, wondered why that kind of popped out, just get used to seeing that on an annual basis.

One of the items in there was around the marketing communications area. And the first step is to hire an outstanding vice president for marketing and communications for the system, that’s going to work collaboratively, across all kinds of boundaries. A lot of people, appropriately, have read that and said, ‘Oh, well, we’re going to bring in this person. We’re going to rip people out from all the units, we’re going to artificially jam them into one consolidated unit.’

What I really want is that person, whomever he or she is, to work collaboratively with the structures that we have in place that are very distributed at each campus and each college. There’s 53 full-time professionals in University Communications that are centralized right there. And what I want to do is make sure that we have a great management leadership culture there of success, and performance, and working across colleges and other units, as well, in a collaborative manner.

My sense has been, from previous opportunities, that if that centralized unit is seen as productive, a great place to work, good creative people, good creative energy, sometimes people will go, ’You know what? Maybe our college unit is best to be incorporated over there, just because there’s more people there to kind of help with deadlines, and things like that.’

And if that occurs, that’ll be because we’ve done a great job centrally and people say, ‘I’d like to be in there.’ But I don’t anticipate me going and forcing anything to happen. That’s not very productive.

Q: One of the concerns I’ve heard lately regarding the budget is that the sports program has incurred a really significant deficit. One of the proposals to alleviate that in the coming years is to increase student fees. I’m curious how that affects satellite campuses like WSU Vancouver? Or is still too early to tell?

KS: Thank you for bringing that up. That’s the first athletics question we’ve got at a town hall, so you win an award

(laughter)

So, a couple things. And let me give some historical context to this. The athletics program is running a $13 million deficit, a substantial deficit, each year, for the last couple of years. I was asked about this a lot as I was interviewing and coming in: ‘What about it? What about it?’

And one of the things we said very consistently is, in September, at the Regents meeting, we will put out a plan on how to close that deficit over a certain number of years. I’d just like to remind everybody in the audience, we did not expend $26 million in the last three months. Sometimes, I think a whole conversation has gotten wrapped around that, that we have to solve it immediately. Frankly, if we could have solved it immediately, we would have done so already.

The second part of that is, a student fee was part of what we proposed to the Regents to consider. Our student government largely dictates student fees, and they have to be voted on, and things like that. And the student fee, even if all that happened, which I don’t believe it will… even if all that happened, it’s $2 million of the $13 million. And so, some of the headlines kind of imply that we’re going to have our students pay this fee and close a $13 million deficit. I don’t think there’s a lot of support from our students in Pullman to do that.

But I would remind everybody there’s $11 million of other things we’ve proposed over the next several years to reduce that deficit. And once we get that balanced, then we’ll worry about repaying back the dollars that the University has used out of reserve funds to keep that going. So I wish I could snap my fingers, and just make it go away.

And the final thing I’ll say about this, too, is: You can say, ‘Well, Kirk, why don’t you just simply cut it? Just whack the $13 million, and you can balance it out.’ I can tell you, nobody will be happy with that particular result.

Audience member: I would be!

(laughter)

KS: One person would be happy with that.

(laughter)

We have this fall’s budget in the Pac-12. And I think we’ve got to increase those revenues to get it up there. And we’ve got to watch expenses. Don’t get me wrong. We can’t just continue to spend willy-nilly on that. But you’ll hear annual updates on this. We’re going to close the gap. And we’re going to get to a point where those two are even, and we’re doing that repayment plan.

 
WSU Vancouver audience
 

Q: The emphasis on the Drive to 25, I think, has been well explained. But I think having been in campus council, I think our staff and faculty are interested in how you access students. If you could kind of explain the Microsoft story that you’ve told, that really makes it come home to roost. It’s more than just prestige, it’s more of a sustained, bigger and better, but then it does have a real impact to our students.

KS: So a couple of things, and I also want Dan to speak about this. I believe the Drive to 25, at the end of the day, elevates the desirability and the marketplace of a Washington State degree, and ultimately that’s what’s important. When somebody sees that Washington State degree or their company has an opening and they want to hire a Washington State graduate. And that value on the degree, by building a reputation, I think, it’s incredibly important. The story he’s (the questioner) referring to is, I had an excellent meeting with Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, and we’re talking about where they recruit from and their strategic university partners.

And they’re still developing this, but we were not on the list. We are not a preferred engineering supplier for Boeing. You go down these kind of things and what it really comes down to is, ‘Hey, we love the graduates, they roll up their sleeves and get the job done. But you guys just aren’t very highly ranked.’

And so one of the things I think we need to do, through the Drive to 25, is move our national and international ranking up in a very systematic and carefully done way, so that at the end of the day, it’s got to result in better opportunities for our students. And I think that’s one of things I want to keep reminding people, it’s not just about research and scholarship, it’s about the elevation of our stature.

DB: So part of Groundhog Day is that we can start flipping roles here. One of the points that President Schultz makes regularly in these events, that I don’t think he’s done so far today, is that the Drive to 25 is about the undergraduate experience as well. That it’s about that transformative student experience and it’s not just a research initiative.

The public research university part of that is the classification of institution that we are, and where we want to elevate into. So we need a Top 25 undergraduate experience as well, and I think if we’re really honest with ourselves, we are closer to a Top 25 research institution in terms of the metrics than a Top 25 undergraduate institution. And so we’re going to have to really focus on what that transformative student experience is. I know you’re having that discussion here, and it’s going to be really important as to how we go about doing that, so that we don’t leave the undergraduate program behind.

And we want to keep underscoring that. What President Schultz is talking about is branded reputation. We got by the athletics question so I hesitate to bring it back up. But I just bring this point up to for you to think about: Brand and reputation has a lot to do with who you associate yourself with. And in higher education, for whatever reason— we’re not going to change it—the athletic conference you’re associated with does have a lot of meaning there. You think about the Big Ten schools, and we ally and we form conferences based upon academic criteria. That’s why Penn State, for example, went into the Big Ten. Think about the universities that are in the Pac-12 and who we get to be associated with. Stanford, Cal, UCLA, University of Washington, etc.

So there is value there. I would probably agree that it’s not $13 million a year in value, but there is a lot of value there. Yes?

Q: I was just curious if you could tell me what your perception of “transformative” is, what you perceive that to be? For undergraduate students.

KS: I like to ask our undergraduates, if you could change one thing, just magically do it without regards to money to improve your undergraduate educational experience, what would it be? And I think I may have my own ideas of how every student is involved and how the class experiences add to it, and our diverse student body, and that we prefer global citizens.

I mean, I go through all that kind of stuff that I think is important, but I think we’ve got to ask our own undergraduate students what type of things could we be thinking about and they would say, ‘Hey, those would make a big difference here.’ That’s why we want our undergrads to be involved in the whole Drive to 25 and give us their suggestions, because you know what? Our students, and I mean this in the best possible way, don’t know what we can’t do. They don’t sit there and go like, ‘What the hell is budget issues? You got this and the state’s not going to do that.’ And so on. They’ll go, ‘This is what I think we need.’

And if we can do this, it would make us a better place. That’s the question I want us to be answering and the info I want us to get. I answered that quickly so we have time for one more.

Q: I was curious, given the increase in the diversity of our incoming students, I mean our freshman class is around 30%. What does that look like in terms of the supports that we have? You spoke about faculty and staff diversification needs too, but I’m curious what you all are talking about in terms of the needs to retain our students and help them succeed with the changing demographic.

DB: That’s a great question.

KS: Yeah, let me start. I think first it starts with conversations with our students about what types of things they think are important to help them be successful. So I met with some of our African American student leaders on the Pullman campus yesterday. We had a very frank, open, and wide-ranging discussion about some of the things that they think that we need to be doing.

And interestingly, a lot more is about communication and support, and it was a lot less about you must do X, Y, and Z or build this or that type of thing. I think it’s important for us to continue to have those dialogues and not simply in crisis times. And that’s tempting to do. Well, we had an incident and now we’re going to have all kinds of communication. We got through the incident and now we’re not going to stop talking with our under-represented minority students and different groups, our LGBT students, and others.

We need to be having constant, regular communication about who’s supported on the campus. Do you feel this is a safe environment? Are we supporting you in your career aspirations? Would you come to Washington State again?

There are a lot of those questions that we can ask, and we have to be prepared for the answers. I want to come across as saying we want to collaborate with you to do these things better. We can’t snap our fingers and make an immediate change most of the time. But on the other hand, I think if we look two or three years down the road, if we’re really having open dialogue, we can make an improved environment where people say, ‘I was listened to, they had suggestions, we’re working together.’ This isn’t an administration versus student thing. It’s, ‘Hey, they want us to feel great about our Washington State experience just like everybody has for 125 years.’

DB: Yeah, I think it’s a great question, and one we just really have to continue to answer ourselves. We are very highly ranked in terms of our graduation rates for minority and first-generation students. We can’t rest on those laurels, but we’re doing some things really right. That’s what I would start with.

Clearly, the wraparound services, if you will, are very important, and I know you’re working on those here; we work on them quite a bit in Pullman. Our biggest challenge in Pullman, and I presume it’s one here to a lesser degree but still a challenge, is scale. Because we had some great programs that retain minority students that ranked higher than the average student body. But we can’t scale them up to the level we need to so that all students have access to programs like Trio or some of the various programs that we have.

So we continue to worry about that; scale’s everything. Athletics has proven that if you put the right wraparound services around students who might not be as academically prepared, we can really do wonders.

The other thing is, to be honest with you, the preparation of the students coming in matters. And we have had a history where we were bringing in some students to WSU, many of them minority students who weren’t prepared and who left us after a year. We have to make sure that we are recruiting prepared students. It’s just a disservice to everybody to bring in students that aren’t prepared. And we looked at the data, and you can see high school grade point average bands where we had no business bringing in those students in. And as you know, this campus, all of our campuses, are increasing the preparation levels of the students that we’re admitting, and I think that’s a good thing.

KS: We have to get to the airport, believe it or not, I’m sorry. I appreciate the questions, and I appreciate the dialogue. This campus is doing lots and lots of exciting things, and I urge you to continue to do those things to challenge us, to make sure we’re being responsive and providing resources, and let’s have a great academic year. Go Cougs! Thank you.

 
Discussion between President and Chancelor