March 28, 2017

Cleveland State President Berkman leads informative March editorial board meeting

Questions from senior editorial staff members of the Cauldron, the Vindicator and the Cleveland Stater discussed the retirement of men’s basketball coach Gary Waters and how smaller urban universities like Cleveland State differ from bigger universities like Ohio University among other topics during Cleveland State University President Ronald M. Berkman’s second editorial board meeting Thursday, March 2. Questions to the president led to discussions, which are outlined here..

State sets tuition; funding based on grad rate

Many students who enroll into Cleveland State do so because it’s the “commuter school” that is close and convenient for most students to attend. Its consistent tuition can also attract students. However -- what may seem as a good, non-increasing tuition rate for students -- raises more questions for students. The state of Ohio and its funding may need some improvement toward universities, according to Berkman.

Berkman said that the university has an extremely challenging budgeting situation. He said that Cleveland State has not had authority on budget issues for more than 40 years. It cannot raise tuition, which has put the university below the national average in tuition increases during the past 12 years. According to Berkman, the state also isn’t providing additional new revenue for higher education and the increase this year in the governor’s budget is one percent.

“That share is not evenly distributed among all of the universities because the format formula,” Berkman said. “So traditional campuses that graduate more students will get more of that one percent and our estimations, at least in our own projections, (are that) we will lose money from the state….”

Berkman said Cleveland State should receive some additional funding for need-based financial aid. According to Berkman, Cleveland State hasn’t had any additional funding from the state in 10 years. With that being said, the university will stay in the two-year, bi-annual tuition freeze.

Berkman said the tuition freeze significantly diminishes the revenue that Cleveland State receives from tuition because. To better explain, he used the example with fake numbers, saying if it costs $10,000 for a student to go to school for a year, the state provides $3,000. Cleveland State has to figure out a way to provide the other $7,000. With the example, he said that he’s not an advocate for raising tuition. He’s an advocate for the state stepping up and providing more resources so students can have a quality education.

Cleveland State has a budget of about $180-190 million, according to Berkman. Because the university has a low operating system and doesn’t get much support from the state, the university has taken away many benefits for students, such as a $200 incentive tuition rebate. The school now uses the system it has to support faculty and students to the best of its abilities.

“It’s students who should be outraged,” Berkman said.

During the discussion, one student mentioned that to increase state-funding, graduation rates needed to increase. Berkman said the Cleveland State graduation rate has doubled in the past 10 years. In his time as president, he and the university made many successful changes that can make it easier for students to graduate.

“I think, truly, seven or eight years ago when I came here, I was truly surprised that anyone could make it through,” Berkman said. “… it was hard for anybody to get the credits that they need to graduate. So by the way, we do fairly well on the formula in terms of graduation rate and completion rate.”

One change that Berkman said improved the graduation rate is multi-term registration. A new policy requires that classes be offered from early morning to late night, makes it easier for students to take the courses that are suitable for them. With multi-term registration students can also sign up for courses for both semesters at one time.

According to Berkman, no longer being the only university that offered four-credit courses in a 30-credit hour requirement helped too. “All of this is to say we’ve done everything to create a system and the degree audit piece, the early registration piece, the tuition incentive piece, the book allowance piece are all measures to try and improve a student’s chances of graduating,” Berkman said.

University-wide funding cuts affect student leadership, media, scholarships and programming

Student Leadership Scholarship (SLS) positions not only offer student involvement, but they also benefit students with skills and experience in their career fields. Another benefit that increases student involvement are scholarship stipends that go toward their tuition. Some of these positions on campus include the Student Government Association, The Cauldron, The Vindicator, Campus Awctivities Board and others. These leadership positions receive their awarded scholarships through the General Fee Advisory Committee (GFAC).

During the meeting, several students asked questions about speculation that top administration (the president’s office) wanted to cut SLS positions completely. These questions came after GFAC made a 10 percent budget cut to all GFAC organizations.

According to Berkman, the administration did not promote cuts to student positions or their scholarships. However, he did vouch for a general discussion university-wide in every program and every department about how Cleveland State can reduce costs.

“One of the things that I’ve tried is really to find more positions in which more students on campus should get some of the practical, hands-on experience ....” Berkman said.

As for the 10 percent budget cut in these programs, Berkman’s support for student organizations was addressed later in an email by Berkman and Dube,.

“As the President mentioned, he is strongly in favor of a robust student media and in generating engaged learning experiences for our students, including providing financial support for those activities when feasible,” Dube said in the email. “That being said, given the tight budgetary environment CSU faces, all departments and organizations on campus, including student groups, are being asked to reduce expenses to assist the university in properly maintaining operations.”

Change underway in administrative positions, campus facilities

Questions arose on how the search for the dean of the law school was going, but Berkman quickly said that it was still in process, as was the search for a dean of the graduate school and a couple of vice president positions. However, updates on the new freshman dorms sparked conversation.

Berkman said that “the new wave (in) dorms is to go back to the old, traditional style — two beds in one room and a communal bathroom.”

He chose to go back with the traditional style because students prefer to live in the modern, Euclid Commons which resembles more of an apartment complex. His notion of going back to old dormitories is to create connectivity with students and the institution to help them become more successful overall in their time at Cleveland State.

“If you want a student to get connected to the university, it’s not the ideal place to go to The Langston, I don’t think,” Berkman said. “Euclid Commons is a little bit closer to it. We need that product [freshmen dorms] because, at least the data we see, is that we’re probably turning away 300 to 400 freshmen who might come to Cleveland State, (but) cannot come to Cleveland State because we cannot offer them a housing option.”

In the past few months Cleveland State began accepting proposals for new dorms to either be built where Krenzler Field or The Wolstein Center lie. Three finalists are interested in building dorms and, possibly, a replacement arena on the Wolstein site. But according to Berkman, no final decisions have been made.

“There’s been no definitive decision,” Berkman said, “but I think (in) another two, three weeks or a month at the most, we’ll announce either a project or we’ll decide that we’ve taken a pass on the project because there are budgetary constraints also.”

Berkman said the Cleveland State University School of Film, Television and Interactive Media is now in its final stages for housing the school in the 33,000-square-foot top floor of Ideastream in Playhouse Square.

Students in the new school will now benefit from working with Ideastream, and having access to the television studio, the radio platform, the digital media platform and access to the theaters, which can be used as a soundstage for film, the president said.

According to Berkman, the search for a director of the film program is still underway. But, he added, in the next two months, a sign proclaiming the location of the school, will appear atop the Ideastream building to identify its future home to all on Euclid Avenue.

“I think putting [the school] there will give us the best opportunity for [students] to operate in a real live media environment,” Berkman said.

Berkman said a topping-off ceremony took place in the end of February at the new Washkewicz College of Engineering building. When the final beam of steel was set, students, faculty, the Washkewicz family and others signed it. The final beam will be set so that the 200 names of people who were there will be visible as well.

“I have to call it one of the miracles that happened,” Berkman said. “Really, the miracle was made possible by a $20 million gift, that’s what made that possible.”

President Berkman sets student events

Berkman said student luncheons created an opportunity for him to have a useful dialogue with students. He has hosted more than three student luncheons since its official debut last semester with the goal of hearing students’ thoughts and opinions at Cleveland State.

“I’ve learned from them, I’ve really learned from them,” Berkman said. “Hearing first hand from students is very different than hearing second hand or third hand, it really is. And I think that we’ve been diligent in considering things that students have suggested.”

Berkman gave an example of discussions at two of the luncheons where veterans discussed the small space allocated to them on campus. He then shared that a new Veterans Center is now located on the ground floor of Trinity Cathedral — which has twice the square footage of the Rhodes Tower space.

“I want to try to do whatever I can to try to get the state to understand that it owes an obligation to students.” -President Ronald M. Berkman


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