‘Tis the season: A few items to review before holiday break

Dear Colleagues,

The holidays are a time of love, joy and hope.

The images of this time of year are indelible: Children sharing their wish list with Santa, students heading back home for the holidays, football games and parades on television, holiday foods and, of course, opening presents.

Here at Southern, we welcomed in the season at the annual “Southern Lights” celebration earlier this month with the lighting of the tree on campus, fueled with cocoa, cider and cookies.

Our Music Department helped usher in the season with the annual “Swingin’ Holiday Show” from the Missouri Southern Jazz Orchestra and, just last week, “A Seasonal Choral Flourish,” two wonderful evenings of vocal music, set the stage for a warm and joyous season of celebration. There have been plenty of other observances as well.

It’s always a pleasure to see our faculty, staff and students coming together at this time of year.

Before we dismiss for the holiday break, I’d like to review a few items of importance to our campus.

Haley joins Board of Governors 

Carlos Haley

Carlos Haley of Joplin has joined the Missouri Southern Board of Governors.

Carlos serves as Chief Compliance Officer for Freeman Health System, earned his MBA in finance, and he is an alumnus of MSSU! His education, talent and experience will make him a great asset to our university.

I want to express my thanks to Keith C. Hankins of Stockton for his years of service on the board. We were fortunate to have Keith lend us the benefit of his wealth of knowledge, insight and judgment. I can’t thank him enough for his efforts and wish him all the best in the future.

Joplin Tomorrow gift

A non-profit corporation formed in the aftermath of the 2011 Joplin tornado, Joplin Tomorrow was established by former U.S. Sen. John Danforth to provide low-interest loans for business recovery.

Nearly $1.6 million was raised by donors from across the country, enabling dozens of businesses to rebuild and expand. Having completed their mission, Joplin Tomorrow recently voted to transfer the remaining $700,000 in assets to the Missouri Southern Foundation. The funds will be used to provide scholarships for future medical students enrolled in the “Yours to Lose – Advanced Medical School Acceptance Program.”

Dr. Brad Hodson is joined by the Joplin Tomorrow board during the announcement of the gift.

The exclusive partnership forged with the Kansas City University School of Medicine and Biosciences will allow up to 25 students per year to be accepted by the KCU medical school at the same time they are admitted into our pre-med program. After earning their bachelor’s in biology, which can be accomplished in a very rigorous three-year program, they’ll begin their first year of medical school at KCU’s new Joplin campus.

This generous gift from Joplin Tomorrow is an investment in our students, our campus and in our community. These future physicians will play a role in the region’s continued economic vitality, and we are grateful to Joplin Tomorrow for their support.

UMKC tour

A portion of the León Health Sciences building will soon undergo renovation for use by the School of Dentistry at University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). A few weeks ago, UMKC brought a group of 22 individuals to campus for in-depth discussions about how to best operationalize the program. The eclectic group from UMKC included faculty, IT staff, architectural and engineering specialists and the dean of the School of Dentistry. They enjoyed getting a firsthand look at their future space on campus and left very encouraged at the arrangements that are unfolding between our organizations.

We are currently discussing the wording of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two schools, which will solidify our partnership and commitment to hosting UMKC’s dentistry program here. We are also in discussions with that university to develop a program similar to “Yours to Lose,” which would give our pre-dentistry students a streamlined path into UMKC’s dental program.

We expect that, at capacity, a total of 60 students will participate in the four-year DDS program, which includes clinical partnerships with area dentists. UMKC is tentatively set to enroll its first cohort of 15 students on our campus in the fall of 2018.

Legislative visits

We recently hosted two groups of Missouri legislators on our campus to share with them our needs and goals for the coming year. These groups included both current legislators and a larger group of newly elected legislators participating in the state-sponsored “Freshman Tour.”

We took the opportunity with both groups to lay out our legislative priorities for the upcoming year. Those priorities include more core funding, new appropriations for renovations to Taylor Performing Arts Center, and the acquisition of the Joplin Regional Center. We will go into more detail on these and other priorities at the spring “All-Employee Welcome Back” meeting January 13, 2017. Wow, I can’t believe I just wrote the number 2017 as a date!

We believe it’s very important that legislators from all over the state get to know us and fully understand our position as a growing educational powerhouse in the region.

Funding

Anyone who works here knows that funding is a major focus.

Public institutions of higher learning in Missouri are primarily funded two ways: through appropriations from the state, and from tuition and fees.

This fall we had a record enrollment of just over 6,200 students, about the same number as at Truman State University. However, we received $23,683, 485 from the state of Missouri.  Truman State received $41,816, 820 – a major difference!

At the same time, our average yearly tuition and fees, as calculated by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education (CBHE), comes in at $5,877 (only Harris-Stowe is lower at $5,820). So, the result is that our combined “tuition/fees and state appropriations per FTE student” is $11,070 – putting us at the bottom of the chart (a whopping $844 PER STUDENT less than Missouri Western, which holds the next-to-last slot). We do not belong at the bottom of any chart, much less this one, because our students deserve better!

The obvious answer seems to be to increase tuition. However, Missouri law forbids publicly-funded universities from exceeding the percentage change of the consumer price index. We can increase tuition but, if we do we face a substantial monetary fine (unless we get a waiver from the Coordinating Board for Higher Education).

In view of our great progress in recent years, it may be time to re-think our policy of staying within funding limits which, we feel, are disproportionate when compared to other universities in the state.

This is a subject our Board of Governors will discuss and debate in coming months.

Commencement 

Dr. Conrad Gubera

Commencement is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17. Our speaker this semester will be Dr. Conrad Gubera, one of Missouri Southern’s legendary professors.

(I know how good he is because he was one of my teachers when I was attending school here way back in the 1970s.)

I wish our graduates all the best as they move on to graduate schools, careers and family responsibilities. They are, now and forever, MSSU Lions!

I wish you a very peaceful and happy holiday break. Lori and I hope you will enjoy your time off and return in January filled with renewed vigor.

We look forward to a great 2017.