The State of the University Address

Cleveland State University President’s Convocation
October 8, 2015
**As prepared for delivery.**

Welcome, faculty, staff, students and friends.
Welcome, Board of Trustees members.

I’d like to introduce our new Vice President of Enrollment Services, Dr. Cindy Skaruppa. Dr. Skaruppa comes to us with more than 20 years of experience in higher education administration, including leadership of enrollment management at Portland State University. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Skaruppa to CSU.

I wish to extend a very special welcome as well as my congratulations to the faculty and staff who are being honored today for their distinguished contributions to the University.

We also have with us today our Presidential Student Ambassadors, including 35 seniors who were among the very first ambassadors when we launched this program three years ago. I am grateful to them for representing CSU at numerous events and for bringing positive recognition to the quality of our students. These seniors are the last remaining students from our original group of 150 Presidential Student Ambassadors. Please stand and be recognized.

Today I want to speak to you about where Cleveland State University is heading as we ride a wave of overwhelmingly positive forward momentum.

We celebrated Cleveland State University’s 50th anniversary in high style over the course of the entire 2014-2015 academic year.

CSU continues to recruit and attract world-class faculty and outstanding staff. You may have seen that we recently ran a full-page ad in The Chronicle of Higher Education for 46 faculty positions at CSU. It signals that this is a growing institution. This year, we welcomed 11 new faculty members on tenure track or tenure appointments.

This fall, Cleveland State University welcomed our largest-ever freshman class, with 1,871 first-year students. Freshman enrollment at CSU has doubled over the past decade. Enrollment results for this year’s record-setting freshman class were achieved while continuing to elevate the average GPA and test scores of enrolled students. This cohort is also among the most diverse in CSU history, with nearly 30 percent of incoming freshmen identifying themselves as being from multicultural or underrepresented backgrounds. Contributing to the influx were gains in international students over last year, including a 16-percent increase in international first-year students and a 9-percent increase in new international students overall.

At a time when institutions of higher education are fiercely competing for a decreasing number of high school graduates, we received over 10,000 freshman applications for the current academic year. CSU has emerged as a university of preference for students from not only across the region – but from around the globe.

Yes, we have many new faces on campus – and the campus itself is turning a new face to the city.

Last month, Congresswoman Martha Fudge and Mayor Frank Jackson – both proud CSU alumni, I might add – were among the VIPs who helped us cut the ribbon for our new Center for Innovation in Medical Professions. In this state-of-the-art facility – designed by the internationally renowned architectural firm of Pelli Clarke Pelli – future doctors, nurses, pharmacists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and other health-care professionals will train to work together by learning together, side by side.

The Center for Innovation in Medical Professions also is the headquarters of the NEOMED-CSU Partnership for Urban Health. The vital mission of this partnership was underscored with a $5.5 million grant from the Cleveland Foundation in June – and it was championed by the late Louis Stokes, a great friend to our University, to our city and to our region.

Just across Euclid Avenue from the Center for Innovation in Medical Professions, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Honors College has a new home in our extensively renovated Main Classroom building. We’ve created a beautiful new learning environment for our honors students. The Honors College, which we will formally inaugurate next month, is CSU’s ninth college. Allow me to take this opportunity to recognize the new Honors College Dean, Dr. Elizabeth Lehfeldt.

In May, CSU marked an important first: The launch of our first-ever capital campaign. At our fifth annual Radiance benefit, we unveiled Engage: The Campaign for Cleveland State University. Our goal is to raise $100 million for scholarships and programs that help students succeed. The campaign promptly got off to an excellent start with a $5 million gift from Parker Hannifin Chairman and CSU alumnus Donald Washkewicz and his wife, Pamela. This was their second major gift to CSU in as many years.

Another lead gift came in from the KeyBank Foundation, which pledged $1 million to fund a series of initiatives aimed at helping Cleveland Metropolitan School District graduates who attend CSU complete their undergraduate programs here on time.

I wish to thank the campaign leadership cabinet, especially co-chairs Donald Washkewicz and Monte Ahuja

Yes, there is much to celebrate here at CSU. And better yet, we're not the only ones celebrating our success. When you’re good, word gets around.

We recently learned that CSU is once again listed among the top universities in the nation in the latest edition of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings. U.S. News assessed nearly 1,600 four-year colleges and universities. CSU is one of only 280 institutions across the country listed within the “Best National Universities” rankings, which are based on several factors, including retention and graduation rates, student selectivity, faculty resources and assessments by academic peers and high school guidance counselors.

Later this month, I’ll travel to Austin, Texas, to accept – on behalf of the entire University – a wonderful honor from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. CSU has won the AASCU’s Excellence and Innovation Award for Student Success and College Completion. CSU is one of only two universities in the nation to receive this award from the AASCU, the Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents more than 400 public higher education institutions across the United States.

The award, which will be bestowed at the AASCU’s annual meeting, recognizes the outstanding progress we have made with retention and graduation rates. Since 2002, CSU's retention rates for full-time, first-year students have increased by 17 percent. Graduation rates for the same group have increased by 49 percent.

This recognition from the AASCU underscores CSU's ongoing commitment to student success. As you know, in the past few years CSU has accelerated an institution-wide focus on identifying the needs of students so that we can deliver the support they need to graduate on time, with less debt and prepared for career success. This clearer path toward college completion is a result of several key student-success initiatives:

Multi-term registration and automated waiting lists allow students to plan coursework for an entire academic year at once, ensuring they have access to needed courses.

An adjusted tuition band allows students to take up to six three-credit hour courses per semester at the same cost as four courses.

Assertive academic advising uses a combination of specialized advisory staff and technology tools to monitor students' progress and provide personalized support.

A 120-credit-hour standard has reduced the average number of credit hours needed to complete most bachelor's degree programs.

I am very proud of our ongoing work to support our students and the leadership demonstrated across our campus to earn the AASCU honor. Our student-success efforts – our AWARD-WINNING student-success efforts – also have garnered national media attention from CNN, The Washington Post and Bloomberg Business. All of us share in this extraordinary recognition for our efforts.

A key part of the national dialogue today about higher education revolves around return on investment. Simply stated: Is a college degree WORTH it?

At CSU, our dedication to student success goes hand in hand with our dedication to guiding our students toward career success. It's worth noting, for example, that our Career Services Center networks with more workplaces than any other public university in Ohio. Three thousand CSU students go out into the community for an Engaged Learning experience, thanks to our myriad co-op and internship opportunities.

I was very pleased when the Brookings Institution released a report in April that illustrates how CSU graduates are enjoying outstanding returns on their investment. The highly respected think tank’s Metropolitan Policy Group issued ratings that rank CSU in the top three among Ohio’s four-year public universities in categories related to career earnings, placement into high-paying career paths and loan repayment rates.

In recent months, research activity at CSU also has put us in the national spotlight. Our research is not only cutting-edge. It’s setting the pace. In fact, we led all U.S. universities for increases in research spending between fiscal years 2004 and 2013, according to the latest edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Almanac of Higher Education. CSU was No. 1 in the nation for the greatest increase in total research spending, up 298 percent.CSU was No. 1 in the nation for the greatest increase in federal research dollars spending, a 684 percent increase. CSU ranked No. 12 among U.S. universities for the greatest increase in corporate research dollars spent, with a 459-percent increase. These impressive rankings speak for themselves.

We are helping students succeed. We are providing an excellent return on investment. We are investing in innovative research. We are connecting with the community at large.

Clearly, CSU is on the right track. But don’t forget the immortal words of Will Rogers: “Even if you're on the right track . . .  you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

In the time we have remaining, I’d like to speak about some of the challenges facing higher education – and how we plan to address those challenges here at Cleveland State University.

Has higher education ever dominated headlines to the extent it does today? Indeed, it’s a hot-button issue on the campaign trail for those who aspire to be the next president of the United States. Pick a candidate. Any candidate. No doubt he or she has put forward a plan for higher education. Most of these plans call for dramatic changes in the way higher education is delivered.

Here in Ohio, the paradigm for higher education is being redefined by mandates from state government. For the first time since I came to CSU six years ago, the state legislature has capped tuition. I believe it will be some number of years before we again see authority for tuition increases.

In the meantime, faced with a mandate on affordability that is also a mandate on success, CSU and the rest of the state public-university system have been asked by the State of Ohio to take a long, hard look at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

The good news is that at CSU, we started doing this several years ago. Many of the state’s recommendations involve steps that we’ve already taken.

They’ve asked universities to reduce the number of credits needed for graduation to 120. Done.

They’ve asked universities to trim tuition with an incentive program. Done.

They’ve asked universities to reduce the number of remediation courses and put students in blended courses. Done.

To date, we’ve been successful at staying ahead of curve. But there are more curves to come – and CSU must be prepared. We must continue to explore the best ways to optimize our operations.

Yes, Cleveland State University is on the right track. But we're not sitting still.

A few weeks ago, we unveiled an exciting new program: Path to 2020. Under the auspices of CSU’s new Office of Performance Management, Path to 2020 involves a campus-wide and community-wide assessment of the University’s current position, which in turn will allow us to address how to leverage our strengths as we lay a solid foundation for the coming years.

Before I go further, let me be clear: This is NOT a prelude to the kind of drastic measures we have seen at other public universities in the region. Rather, our objective is to develop a widely supported and inspiring action plan that will ensure the University thrives despite the challenging environment that lies before us.

Our Path to 2020 leadership team includes: Jim Bennett, Dr. Deirdre Mageean, Bonnie Kalnasy and Tim Long. Ideally, the process also will include ALL OF YOU: students, faculty and staff, as well as partners in the community at large. We want to engage all of our stakeholders in this vital exercise.

Let me conclude by saying that I hope you share my great pride in everything that CSU has achieved.

I hope you also share my excitement for a future that will find Cleveland State University rising to the challenges of higher education in the 21st century with bold forward thinking and the collaborative, can-do spirit that has always been a hallmark of this institution.

I remain grateful for the opportunity to lead this best-in-class university, and I believe our best days are yet to come.

Thank you. Now, more than ever, it’s a great time to be a Viking!