Behind the Headlines — January 9, 2015

(female announcer)
This is a production of W-K-N-O, Memphis. Production funding for “Behind
the Headlines” is made possible in part by.. Doctor David Rudd, president
of the University of Memphis tonight on
Behind the Headlines.” [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I am joined tonight
by Doctor David Rudd, president of the
University of Memphis. Thanks for being here. Happy to be here. Also, Bill Dries,
senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. So, you were named president
in May after — was it a year? — I believe as provost. About a year as provost and
started as president in May. That’s correct. Your priorities,
let’s start there and then we’ll
get in to details. But your
priorities as president. Well, we have
several areas of focus. And one is for
growth for the university. And so, we were looking for
growth in terms of the student base both at
the undergraduate level as well as the
graduate level. We’re looking for improvement in
quality of our ability to offer comprehensive educational
experience to our students. We’re looking for growth
in terms of research capacity for the university. We’re looking to do in all of
those things within a framework of containing costs. And so, one of the things that’s
critical for us and critical for our future is being able to
maintain a cost-effective approach to higher
education for our students, one of the greatest
challenges for our students. And then, consistent with the
governor’s vision for a higher education in Tennessee,
which we support, is the notion of
improved outcome. So, we want to improve
our graduation rates. We want to improve our retention
rates and overall success for our students. And you
came in at a time.. I can’t remember
exactly the timing. But there was a
$20 million shortfall. We had a $20 million
budget gap for the university. It was a
structural deficit. And really what that means
is that at the heart of the university, our core
infrastructure was a little larger than we could
support on a sustainable basis. Yeah.
And is that people? I mean, or is it
a mix of people? It’s a huge campus but
there’s also a huge payroll. There is
a huge payroll. So, the overall budget
for the university is about $480 million. I would tell you that
most organizations, in particularly organizations
and institutions like universities, about
80% of those costs are probably personnel cost. But you
made the decision. I mean, it’s part of
a national, you know, debate, dialog, worry
on the part of parents. The skyrocketing
cost of college. You know, they’ve
gone up so much. You closed that gap not
with a tuition increase. Correct?
But with expense cuts. We closed that gap
with expense cuts. And I would tell you a
little bit more than that. We did a little bit
more than expense cutting. We looked at
operational efficiency, organizational structure and how
can we deliver a high quality educational experience and do it
the most efficient way possible. So, every opportunity that we’ve
had for greater efficiency and improved effectiveness,
we’ve taken advantage of that. That’s something
that we continue to do. So, when opportunities emerge to
look at whether the structure of one of our entities.. And much of that is on the
administrative side about how we monitor and
manage what we do. We’ve certainly targeted those
and we’ve got a few more things that we’ll do in the
coming year around that. But we’ve been
able to close that gap. We’ve been able to
hold tuition down. So, we had no tuition
increase for the first time. And originally, we
had said that that was the first time in 23 years. But now that we’ve
gone back, you know, and looked at
the history, actually the first time in 30 years. And is that.. I mean, I’ll assume
there will be tuition increases in the future. I mean, your
costs do go up. That is not. That’s not a sustainable model.
I mean, we certainly can’t. We can’t maintain flat tuition.
That’s not realistic. But what we can do is look
at trying to manage tuition increases in
an effective way. Our average
increase over the course of the last 15
years was 8.4%. That outstrips
inflation by about 70%. And so, that
certainly isn’t manageable. And so, the state
has reduced support. We cannot continue to balance
it by shifting those costs to students in to tuition. So, we’re looking
for alternative models. And I think we’re finding
some exciting ways to do that. Okay, Bill? And I believe.. Did the regions recently
improve a hourly wage increase? They did. They improved an hourly wage
increase for our lowest paid hourly employees
at the university. It’s an issue that the
university has been grappling with for
arguably 15 years. We feel
good about it. It was the right thing for us to
do to have a meaningful wage for those employees, one that really
reflects their commitment and service to the
university and the community. Is there the prospect for
increased state funding at some point? Because your
successor, Doctor Raines, certainly dealt with trying to
make things happen on the campus with no increase
in state funding. You know,
I hope that there is. I think that the reality
is that when you look at, you know, you look at state
funding for higher education, certainly any and all of us in
higher education would argue for more support. Now what we would hope is
that the formula that was — the formula that is in place and was
approved and supported by the governor would
be fully funded. And if we had a
fully funded formula, that would mean an
increase for the university. We have had improvement
in three critical areas with respect to outcomes. We’ve had improvement
in retention rates. We’ve had improvement
in degrees awarded, in graduation rates. And we’ve had improvement in
movement from lower division to upper division in students. Those are critical
outcomes in the formula. And we would hope
that that would be fully funded
and recognized. Because it’s hard for us to
maintain that infrastructure in the support required
to have those outcomes if we don’t
have the funding. As we are taping this
program on a Friday morning, President Obama is due in
Knoxville later today to preview his State of
the Union message. And one of the things he wants
to at least explore is expanding the Tennessee promise program,
the last dollar scholarship promising two years of free
community college to every Tennessee high
school graduate. And the first enrollees
in that program are in. And there are still some
debates about what that does to four year institutions —
quote-unquote four year institutions — like the
University of Memphis. What do you think going in to
this first year of it that that impact will look like? Well, we studied that.
So, we looked at that. And for us, we studied it
in some depth last year when this opportunity emerged. And we think it’ll have
marginal impact for us. And I can give you a
couple of examples of that. But ultimately, they’re
different groups of students. And so, if you look
at Tennessee Promise, the goal is to bring students
in to higher education that traditionally had not be
attracted to higher education, had not had
the opportunity. That includes community
college experiences as well as
technical school. Those are probably different
groups of students than the students that we recruit and the
students that we traditionally have gone after. So, they’re really
different sub-populations of high school students. And if you look at our
applications this year, we’ve been
very aggressive. As you know, we had the 250
mile radius program that we implemented
late last year. It was in the summer where we
removed out-of-state tuition rates within a 250 mile
radius of the university. As of this week, we
have 13,700 applications. That’s relative to last
year when we had about 4,200 applications at this time. We have admitted — so, those
are students that have completed their applications, all of
the work required to that, paid their
application fee. We have now admitted
over 5,200 students to the
University of Memphis. And at this time last year,
we had admitted about 3,000. So, we’re optimistic that
we have a strategy in place. And frankly, we’re optimistic.
We’ve been proactive. We’ve gotten out in front of
this and we’re really attracting a different student
for the most part. But after a couple of years,
the students that will be in the pool that will transfer to
the University of Memphis will increase. And so, we’ve..
Absolutely. Because there will be a
sub-population of those students who would like to go ahead and
transition to a four-year degree who may not have anticipated
that at the beginning. So, we actually
are optimistic. We think the first
couple of years, we’re going to have
great growth regardless. And then we think after
that, it increases the pool. Let’s go back to those
numbers because they’re huge. So, your ideal..
You talked about 12,000. 13,700. 13,000 applicants
versus 4,000 a year ago. Your ideal
undergraduate.. Is that for undergraduates or
graduates and undergraduates? That is
for new freshmen. So, and your
ideal class size is? We would love to
have a class of 3,000, little bit over 3,000
for a new freshmen class. So, is that a number you’ve
attained in the past or is this sort of a difference of we
have a higher quality student? Not to be ugly. No, we do have a
higher quality student. And so, actually, I
think that is a great point. And let me emphasize
two things about it. When you
have a budget problem.. So, you mentioned the
shortfall that we had, a $20 million problem. One of the easy ways to solve
that problem is lower standards. We did not do that. And so, actually, the
selectivity rate at the university has
improved profoundly. We have
maintained our standards. And actually, they
have inched up in terms of average A-C-T
score, average G-P-A. Last year, of the
students we admitted, 24% were honors students. In our overall metrics in terms
of student performance have continued to increase. So, the
selectivity has improved. And does that play out in terms
of those kids are more apt to finish the four years? Oh, absolutely. I mean, we can
look at that data. So, we can look at
high school performance. We can look
at A-C-T scores. And we can tell you the
probability of completing a degree and how
quickly they’ll do that. So, what the timeline is for the
students is in terms of whether or not they’re probably
going to do it in four years, five years
or six years. There’s a quote when you were
speaking to Rotary many months ago, maybe in the summer,
when you talked about kids, you know, looking at
kids and who would leave, who would drop out. And sometimes it was as little
as — and I don’t mean to — but as little as,
compared to the overall cost, a few hundred dollars. That that was just
like, I’m short the money. I can’t go
back to school. I’m going to
take a semester off. And I think you said that the
school has found that studies are if you take
that semester off, your chances of coming
back diminish greatly. What can you do, or
what have you put in place, or what will you put in place
for those kids who are coming up just a little bit short
in taking that time off? We have put
in place two things. One, we created a program
called The Finish Line Program. And what that program does
is it targets those students. And so, now we have a mechanism
in place so that The Finish Line targets students
that complete 90 hours, withdraw from school. The reason 90 hour metric is
important is that that means you’ve got
one year to finish. And we can help you
get that year to finish. We actually
found a pool. We’ve gone back over five or six
years and we’ve got a pool of over 4,500 students that have
withdrawn at 90 hours plus and transitioned to
no other university. So, they’ve simply
left higher education. And they’ve left high education
a year short of a degree. So, we put
a program in place. We’ve now graduated in
this first nine months of this program I believe 145 students
as of this last December. The average number of hours
required to finish is under six, less than two courses. And the average cost
for those students is less than
$700 to finish. And so, it’s just offering
the support and actually making something available for them
providing the infrastructure and providing the people
contact needed to help them complete the degree. One more question about the
radius and I’ll go back to Bill. You talked about
the 250 mile radius. The difference in in-state and
out-of-state tuition has been.. Like, if you lived
in DeSoto County, let’s say,
you’re out of state. Your tuition was what
compared to in-state tuition? Well, we’ve had a border
county agreement for a while. That border
county agreement.. It’s almost double.
It’s about $6,000. So, you know, if you live
outside of those border counties and you live within
that 250 mile radius.. So, you live in
Arkansas, why would.. It’s hard for us to be
competitive at a pricing standpoint with University of
Arkansas where you can go to University of Arkansas for
$6,000 less than you can go to the
University of Memphis. What’s fascinating is we
took that challenge on. We’ve now
eliminated the cost barrier. And look what’s
happened to our application. It’s grown remarkable. And so, it’s about.. For a freshman, it’s
about 8,000 a year? It’s about 8,400. And so,
you compare that. It’s amazing the
cost of schools now. I say this as a parent. I have a step son that is
a freshman in college and I have a junior. My son is a junior. So, this is very
heavy on my mind. I mean, from
$8,000 you’ve got.. I don’t know what
Rhodes is right now but it’s in the
forties I think. I mean, just
going through schools. Vanderbilt is almost 60. U-T is in the
20-something range I think. It’s amazing the range.
Is that.. You know, no one wants to be the
low cost – low quality provider. But to be the low cost –
high quality provider is a competitive advantage? Yeah, it’s a remarkable
competitive advantage. And I would tell you that
we’re doing a couple of things. One, we are
a great quality comprehensive educational
experience, period. Part of the challenge that we
had is competing with other, I would tell you, great
universities within our region that you would have to pay
dramatically more to go to the University of Memphis. We’ve eliminated that challenge. And as a result, we’ve
got a greater application, pull high quality students. And the challenge for us now
is to effectively brand that. So, the challenge for us
is to relate that message. And what you’re going
to see in February, March and April of
this year is a roll out of a new
branding campaign. So, we’re going to
argue here’s what is unique to the
University of Memphis. To some degree..
And I really will go to Bill. Some of that, it seems parallel
to what’s happened with the law school,
for instance. The law school is, you
know, very highly regarded. It’s on all the
lists of, you know, top regional schools. It’s got, you know, one of the
top court teams in the country. It’s got all these accolades
but it’s a fraction of the cost of a lot
of its schools. And is that kind of the
model for the undergrad? That is
precisely the model. And actually, you put your
finger on something that few people know we did. Last year we actually piloted
reduced tuition for the law schools to see if it had
any impact on out-of-state applications because we’re
really empirically driven. One of the things we like to do
is have some data to inform the decision making
of what we do. And so, we piloted
that with the law school. And what we found is we had a
remarkable response nationally from out-of-state students when
we took on the costing issue for the law school. And the law school has
grown their application pool. They had some
increase in size in students. And as we know nationally,
law schools are down about 15%. And application
pools are down almost 50% for law schools nationally. So, we’re growing at a time
when everyone else is shrinking. I would tell you that
we got great quality. As you know, the law school was
selected as the best facility in the country. And the argument that I
would make is that we’re not just the best facility. We’ve got faculty
to match the facility. And when people get to
see it, they recognize that. Yeah, Bill? Let’s talk about another segment
of your student population, the veterans. And that’s a student group that
I think you talked about people within a year
of their degree. The veterans are a very
different group because obviously they’ve served
the country for their time in the military. And they return probably a
better prospect in terms of completion and rolling with
the punches of trying to pursue college than they were before
they went in to the service. I would agree completely.
They return. I’m a veteran, as well. And I would tell you
that veterans return from their service. And not only do they have a
breadth the world exposure experience, expertise in
skills but they return with the perspective that it’s perhaps a
little different than an 18 or 19-year-old student that
hasn’t had that experience. They’re very
focused on finishing. They know what
they want to do. And they pursue it
with considerable vigor. We have
actually grown our veteran student
population considerably. We started a new
veteran resource center. We’ve got a partnership with
the National Center for Veterans Studies that I started when I
was at the University of Utah. We actually will announce some
grant support this late spring, early summer that we have with
the Department of Defense for a new project that we’re doing
that’s looking at veterans. And so, we’ve got a lot of
activity on the veteran side. Are veterans always aware of all
of the benefits that are there for them to
complete their degree? Actually, they’re not. And what’s interesting about it
is we have people that aren’t even aware
they’re veterans. So, you have a lot of people
that believe that veteran status means that you served in
combat, not that you served in the military. And then we have some people
that believe that if you served in the military but didn’t
serve during war time that you’re not a veteran. And so, we’ve tried
to get the word out. And one, help people recognize
they’re veteran status. And two, resource our center
adequately so they had advising that helped them recognize
what’s available to them. Because there are great supports
that are available for veterans, particularly veterans in
higher education today. And so, I think we’re
doing a nice job of that. We’ve got some great leadership
over there and very pleased with the movement. I referred a little
bit earlier to the term four-year university. Tell me about how long it takes
your students on an average to complete their degree, those
who complete their degree. Nationally on average
it’s over five years now. So, that’s not just
University of Memphis. That’s everyone in
higher education today. It’s a little bit
over four years. And a part of what that reflects
are the unique challenges of higher education. So, we talked. We were talking a little
bit earlier about cost. So, part of the expansion of
that timeline in horizon for graduation for students
is a function of cost. And so, it requires students
to work more to help pay for those expenses. And as a result, it delays their
graduation because they can’t take as many hours. They can’t participate
fully in the summer. And so,
there’s an interesting.. There are interesting
consequences all the way around in terms of
escalation of cost. Do students work because they
are afraid of the student debt or is student debt as
sharp of an issue as it was, let’s say,
five years ago? It’s more significant an issue
today than it’s ever been for students in
higher education. You know, student debt is
something that we talk about on a frequent basis about how do we
help students lower that debt. How do we
put systems in place? And one of the things we’re
trying to do is we have worked very carefully to try to grow
our strategic partnerships with local employers
and corporations. There’s a wonderful
corporate support in Memphis. And a way that we can do
that is by building internship opportunities, co-op
opportunities for our students. And that helps them blend their
educational experience and have applied work experience that
elevates the possibility of employment immediately
after graduation or even prior
to graduation. And so, all of those things help
us take on this student debt and the cost issue while we provide
a comprehensive high quality educational experience. And you, as I
understand it, that approach. You also talk to
employers, as well, and say, you know, can we
arrange possibly some flexible schedule here keeping in mind
that you employ a student who both of us would like to
see complete their education. Absolutely.
And we’re doing that. We are doing that. We are doing that
employer by employer. We actually have a program that
we call the Key 50 Program where we have targeted working
with and developing strategic partnerships with the top
50 employers in Memphis. We’ve now expanded
that to the Key 100. And we will continue to
expand that in the coming years. Let me
raise a question. We have about six
minutes left here. And we give not enough
time for some big issues. One is a bit of a controversy
now with this Relay graduate school possibly coming
in to the university. Tell me what Relay
is and we’ll try to talk through the struggle. It is an
interesting issue. And I would tell you that
it’s not about Relay coming in to the university. That actually isn’t
really the challenge. It’s about us
partnering with other entities. That’s no different than
if we were partnering with Christian Brothers, and we
were partnering with Rhodes, and we’re
partnering with others. We will hopefully announce
some effort in February with Shelby County Schools. It will be a part
of a broader effort, a partnership with Shelby
County Schools in terms of University of Memphis playing
a role not only in teacher preparation in
the priority schools. Last year, we placed 19
teachers in the priority schools in Shelby County. Priority failing schools. Yes, those are the
bottom five percent, the most challenging
educational environment. The need there is
about 600 a year. Yeah, I was going to
say 19 seemed real small. It’s tiny. And every year the number
has gotten smaller for us. And so, what we’re looking at
doing and what we’re exploring.. And I’ve got some conversations
that I’m having with the College of Education. Actually had a conversation, a
good productive conversation with the College of
Education leadership yesterday. We’ve got a meeting scheduled
next week with the faculty. And we’re going to
pursue how do we partner, how do we do this in a way
that benefits Shelby County, benefits these children. The need is tremendous. Arguably the most serious
challenge to the future of Shelby County. And Relay has
worked in other states. They’ve worked in
five other states. Specifically targeting training
teachers to go in to high priority failing schools. And they don’t need
University of Memphis to be in Shelby County. I think the thing that’s
important for everybody to understand is that Relay
can work in Shelby County. They’re an independent entity.
They can work in Shelby County. What we would like to do is how
do we partner to increase our production of
teachers in those areas, how do we partner with other
entities knowing that the goal is 600 teachers on an annual
basis and we’re not going to be able to do that. We’re simply
not large enough. We can’t produce
enough teachers. And how can we do it
that is urban specific? So, really challenging urban
environments and really has particular
expertise in that area. What’s going on at
the South Campus? A whole lot. Great things going
on at South Campus. We’ve got a new building that
will open in this coming year. So, it’ll open for
the next academic year. If you haven’t been over there,
you ought to take a look at it. It’s wonderful. It’s going to change that
entire region over there. I mean, I think it is going to
have great economic impact in those
neighborhoods. It’s going to
bring in new business. It’s going
to be wonderful. We’ve got athletic complex
that hopefully we’ll launch this coming year on
South Campus, as well. We’ll be announcing
that fundraising campaign, which we’re
near to closing. We hope to announce
that in the spring. And the building people drive
by if they drive by Park and the corner of Audubon is? That’s the new
Health Sciences building. And Nursing
will be in there. The School of Communication
Sciences and Disorders will be in there. We’ll have an
Autism Clinic in there. We’re currently raising
funds for the Autism Clinic. It’ll be the only Autism
Clinic in this region. And there’s a
critical need there and we’re excited about that. A question
that’s been on.. We talked about other
issues with national colleges and so on. I haven’t given enough
time to this and I apologize. Sexual assault. Has the whole debate about
sexual assault and the response of schools
caused you all review? Absolutely, it has. And actually, we’ll have some
things that we will roll out here in the next months when
our students get back looking at violence and sexual
assault on campus specifically. And we have a training program
that is available that we’re reinforcing the
need for that. We’ll have some
policies that we’ve looked at. And how do we refine and how do
we make sure that we have a safe campus, that we have
good communication? And I will remind
everyone we’ve actually had the safest campus
in Tennessee. The University of Memphis
has been the safest campus in Tennessee five out of the last
seven years in that we really do a remarkably good job. But we need to enhance our
response in visibility regarding sexual assault that we know our
students and everyone feels free to access the
resources that are available. The last one that we
have to get to is sports. How about
that football team? Well, let me say
congratulations to Coach Fuente, his staff. What a great job! Let me say congratulations to
our athletic director who has built a
wonderful department. And we’re having great
success across the board. I would encourage it that
it really is remarkable what they’ve done in three years
with the football program that arguably was quite challenged
and has won ten games. One of the best
seasons in history. Not only are they winning
but these are great young men. Yeah, I’m going to skip over
basketball and I’m going to go right to
conference realignment. Do you see
that happening? It’s still shifting. A lot of people want to see
the University of Memphis in the Big 12. Is that a possibility? I would tell you that the
reality for college athletics is that on the national
stage, there will be changes. Okay. I think we
all recognize that. And we will work hard and we
are working hard to position the University of Memphis to be
successful when change occurs. Alright.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Bill.
Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week.

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