By Scott Robertson
The realities of higher education are changing at a rapid pace, Dr. Brian Noland, president of East Tennessee State University told faculty at the State of the University address Friday afternoon in the Brown Hall auditorium. ETSU, Noland said, is changing to meet the needs of today’s students, today’s community and today’s educators.
“In less than a generation, higher education has gone from a public good to a private good as the populace has focused more on the direct economic benefits that accrue to graduates than the broader benefits that accrue to the population as a whole,” Noland said. “As an institution we can lament this change, or recognize that the ground rules have been permanently repositioned, and we can take dedicated steps to adjust the operating paradigm of our university to align with today’s realities.”
The university must market itself to students with different strategies in mind, Noland said. For instance, in a state where Tennessee Promise incents Tennessee freshmen to avoid four-year schools in favor of free tuition at community colleges, universities like ETSU must turn their attention to recruiting out-of-state students. In the last three months, Noland said, he has visited high schools in both North and South Carolina, and more trips are planned.
In addition, Noland said, ETSU must stress the benefits of attending a university instead of a college. “As I meet with principals and counselors and students, as we host events at Shelbridge, I hear from students who are excited about our university, who are enthralled with our mission, who know the great research that occurs in our labs and in your classroom settings,” Noland said. “They want to be at a university setting. This is a great institution. This is a great institution, and it’s time that we step forward and define to the people of the state of Tennessee what it means to attend a university.”
“This is an institution that across the board has points of excellence, in student service, in academic success and in the things that happen in the classroom. And ladies and gentlemen, it is time that we shine a bright spotlight on that quality and that excellence.”
The strategy seems to be working. Noland told faculty applications for enrollment at ETSU are up 17 percent year-to-year, even with Tennessee Promise in place.
Still, growing the student body is not the only challenge. Because of the continuing decline of state funding, budgeting is a yearly challenge. So too is keeping qualified faculty.
Noland said the university has made efforts to address both of those challenges in the last 18 months. “Over that period, we have spent considerable time and effort researching governance and budgeting structures for our university,” Noland said. “This has not simply been a paper-shuffling operation. Our intent is to create a decentralized budget process that will empower faculty, that will empower deans and department chairs … with the opportunities to maximize their potential.”
In coming weeks, Noland said, College of Pharmacy Dean Larry Calhoun, who has chaired a committee examining the existing budget structure of ETSU, will hold open forums across the campus, “to seek feedback and input regarding their recommendations.”
“From this feedback we will refine the report and we will move forward with new processes and interim governance structures that will provide a foundation for excellence for the university.”
A new strategic planning process, “will be informed by the work of the budget committee, and our planning goals will closely link to budgetary outcomes,” Noland said.
“In the paradigm defined by Complete College Tennessee, strategic plans and budgets can no longer exist in isolation. They must come together, and through a combination of planning and budgeting, and through the decentralization of the process, I truly believe that we will empower our faculty.”
The bottom line is that the world of higher education is changing, and ETSU is changing to meet the new challenges it will face, Noland told the faculty. “We must recognize that we’re in a competition for students, for resources, for market, prestige and funding. I believe in you, and I believe in our university.”