Administrators discuss plans at Town Hall

19 Nov

Sixty students attended Student Senate’s Town Hall November 5 to discuss parking, food, green initiatives, financial aid, and program elimination with a panel of administrators.

“We’re in the second year of a two-year strategic plan,” said Dr. Michael Droge, president of Park University. “We’re hoping to have our 5-year plan in place by 2012. Basically, the plan determines what Park wants to be when Park grows up, over the next few years at least.”

The strategic plan includes optimizing the physical resources of each campus.

“The Master Plan committee will deal with modifying existing buildings and whether we need new facilities,” said Thimios Zaharopoulos, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs. “It deals with parking, classrooms, and unused and underused halls like Hawley Hall and Herr House.”

Zaharopoulos said each of the strategic planning committees will have student representation, most likely from Student Senate.

“Those committees aren’t going into a room and cooking up a plan and that’s it,” said Dr. Droge. “It will be interactive, with web and Senate and surveys. Students will be involved.”

Besides investigating physical campus improvements, the strategic plan deals with improving curriculum to insure each student graduates with a global perspective, as well as streamlining the offered programs.

“It’s a state initiative to examine under performing degree programs,” said Dr. Droge. “At Park, it’s our initiative to do reviews of every program. Does anyone enroll in it? Do they graduate? What is the cost-benefit ratio?”

One recently reviewed program that won’t be cut is the legal studies major. Dr. Droge said the major won’t be cut because it has been helpful for pre-law students and doesn’t cost the school anything. However, Park also will not be investing additional resources and marketing into the program, as it is not a required prerequisite for law school. A less fortunate degree was the recently eliminated theater major.

“The major only existed for a couple years,” Zaharopoulos said. “Now it’s a minor again. We only had 11 students in the major, so the faculty asked that we cut it to a minor. We plan to help the program as a minor, especially as the BA now requires one. Theater teaches a number of skills, and we intend for it to compliment an education.”

Other recently eliminated degrees include bachelor of arts degrees in the science department, which have been replaced by bachelor of science degrees. According to Dr. Droge, proposed additions to the degree offerings include a bachelor of arts in nursing and a liberal studies major called university interdisciplinary studies, intended as a secondary major for transfer students with too many electives from other institutions.

It’s not just the academic departments that have money worries, however. Students have filed more than twice as many special circumstances aid requests as last year, according to Carla Boren, director of student financial services,

“We do have a healthy endowment and we have been working on developing an internal fund,” said Boren. “There is an application website open. Donors have all sorts of requests as far as major, ethnicity, and geographics. We have to be good stewards and balance what we’re giving. You as students should also be looking for outside resources.”

Dr. Droge said most students have an average of a 37% reduction on tuition because of scholarships.

Boren said about 3-5% of Park’s endowment is spent on scholarships each year, in order to let the majority of the funds continue to earn interest and fund the next year’s scholarships. The endowment is made up of donations to the university. The office of university advancement is fundraising donations from alumni to expand the endowment.

“I went to school on need-based scholarships, so I understand,” said Dr. Droge. “Students are the best ambassadors for the university. There will be opportunities for students to tell their stories so donors understand the benefits we’ll get from those donations.”

Dr. Droge advised any students who wish to help with fundraising efforts to contact the office of university advancement.
Boren said the financial aid department is doing what it can to support students who don’t qualify for need-based aid but whose parents aren’t paying either. She encouraged students to visit the financial aid office to ask for help when they need it.

“Unfortunately, until you are 24, an orphan or veteran, or have been abused as verified by a third party, you’re a dependent student,” said Boren. “We can’t make a parent pay a bill. We do have to have the data. That’s where you come in and tell us what your needs are. We want you to be here!”

Student senators noted that the rising cost of room and board, as well as the mandatory meal plan for residential students, has resulted in many more commuter students than in the past.

Zaharopoulos agreed that student opinions would be listened to for cafeteria and meal plan improvement.

“The issue is more complex than it seems,” said Zaharopoulos. “It’s an issue that affects staff and faculty, too. But it sounds like we’re losing students and we will be following up on that.”

The room and board rates are not yet decided on for next year, nor are tuition rates. Dr. Droge said the rates will raise, but he doesn’t expect it to be a huge impact on students. He will be at the Student Senate meeting on Friday, November 19 at 12:30pm in the Louise Morden Board Room to hear student opinions before making a final decision.

Published in The Stylus Newspaper, 19 November 2010

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