A few updates as the Spring 2017 semester draws to a close

As Finals Week draws to a close and we prepare to celebrate our graduates during Saturday’s commencement ceremonies, I want to thank each and every one of you for your hard work.

The results of that work can be seen in the students’ eyes as they cross the stage to receive their diploma and begin life’s next chapter. It’s a milestone for each of them, and a direct result of the contributions you make to this university.

As we wrap up the spring semester, I wanted to keep you in the loop on a few items of importance.

Budget update

As you are aware, higher education in the State of Missouri suffered deep budget cuts midway through the 2017 year and will endure even deeper reductions in funding in Fiscal Year 2018. Accordingly, we had to make some very tough decisions to make our budget come anywhere close to balancing. In fact, we adopted an $800,000 deficit budget for FY2018.

Sadly, the FY2018 budget could not accommodate any across-the-board pay increases and that’s a situation that I truly regret. But, we do have approval from the Board of Governors to re-evaluate our financial status at mid-year to see if we can make adjustments at that time.

The board also agreed to measure our “end of year” operating results (June 30, 2017), and see if we can possibly have a mid-year dispersal of the amount above our “forecast,” because we are currently on trend to end the year with improved operating cash (our critical number for the Great Game of Education).

However, the budget cuts for FY2018 will start to erode this cash balance rapidly after July 1 unless we are able to increase enrollment and retention and/or keep the Satellite Dental School money in the budget. Either way, the Board of Governors will re-examine our cash position at mid-year and keep the GGOE promise to redistribute the amount of improved operating cash established at the end of FY2017 if at all possible. This distribution could take the form of increased departmental budgets and/or stipends to university employees.

The obvious difficulty with state appropriations is the FY2018 decrease in core funding of 6.6% on top of the 4.0% cut of FY2017. And, the inability to make up the lost revenue with tuition increases without facing the possible consequence of being penalized 5 percent of our existing state appropriation. But, we will need to seriously look at a significant tuition increase next year even if we are forced to accept the 5 percent penalty, because the penalty is a “one-time charge” and the tuition increase would be permanent.

A last word about the budget: Currently the proposed budget that the governor has on his desk contains $2 million for MSSU to continue work on the Dental School partnership with UMKC (they have $1 million in the budget for the same purpose). However, this entry is again listed as a “new decision item” and on a separate budget line rather than being included in our base budget.

If the governor signs the budget in its current form we will still need to be very careful in how the money is spent or allocated until it can be included in our base budget next year (which is the plan of House Budget Chair Scott Fitzpatrick).

Insurance

As the university prepares for the 2018 Plan Year, there have been ongoing discussions by the Insurance Committee about reintroducing a health savings account option for employees.

A health savings account (HSA) can be used to pay for medical and prescription expenses in conjunction with a qualified high deductible health plan. Contributions into the account are made on a pre-tax basis through payroll deductions, and dollars in the account are tax free when used for qualified medical/prescription distributions.

The plan is to provide employees with HSA education classes prior to open enrollment so informed decisions can be made. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

In other news, the partially self-insured group plan that went into effect on Jan. 1 is going very well. Paying for each out-of-pocket claim as they are incurred rather than paying a fixed premium to the insurance carrier has already resulted in significant savings for the university.

Retirements 

It was my pleasure to attend Thursday’s retirement reception as we thanked faculty and staff members for their years of service at Missouri Southern. 

Retirees included Janette Van De Mark, Jackie Coose, Richard Compton, Dale Fletcher, Dr. Francis Bartholet, Dr. Deborah Brown, Stephen Schiavo, Stephen Jordan, Helen Regnier, Carolyn Carter, Jerry Robertson, Sheila Damer, Joyce Courtney and Rod Surber.

Those entering Phased Retirement are Dr. Jack Oakes, Dr. Scott Cragin, Chrys Corcoran, Christine Eller, Dr. Richard Miller, Debra Snodgrass, Stephen Smith, Dr. Pedro Talavera-Ibarra, Dr. Robert McDermid and Dr. Paul Teverow.

Altogether, they have given a combined 530 years of employment to Missouri Southern!

I want to offer special thanks to our two retiring deans – Deb Brown and Richard Miller. Their leadership and invaluable contributions to the School of Education and School of Arts & Sciences have benefitted countless students over the years.

Commencement

As mentioned above, our 68th graduating class will participate in spring commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 13, in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.

Students from the School of Business, School of Education, and those receiving general studies and applied science degrees will attend the 9:30 a.m. ceremony. A 1 p.m. ceremony will honor those graduating from the School of Arts & Sciences and the School of Health Sciences.

I hope that you can join us as we celebrate all of our graduates.

Don’t forget – we begin our summer schedule on Monday, May 15. Our work week will be from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

Plans are underway for the welcome back meeting to kick off the fall semester. It’s tentatively planned for Friday, Aug. 18, so be watching for more details.

I hope you have a safe, enjoyable and relaxing summer!

Remaining steadfast in our mission

Dear colleagues,

With the spring semester well underway (Spring Break is just a few weeks away!), there’s a lot to talk about. Perhaps nothing is of more concern to the university than the current budget situation, so it’s the best place to start.

Budget update

As you know, the governor announced in January cuts to higher education as he worked to balance the budget.

For fiscal year 2017 (which ends June 30), Missouri Southern will lose $1.7 million. In working to adjust to these cuts, we have asked units in every division to refrain from spending 100 percent of their budgets in an effort to help us absorb the impact.

Earlier this month, the governor rolled out another round of cuts that will take effect in fiscal year 2018 – an additional budget reduction of $2.2 million for our university.

State funding has decreased to an all-time low of 31 percent of Missouri Southern’s operating budget, and these anticipated cuts for the new fiscal year make it difficult to avoid a tuition increase that is higher than what otherwise might have been required.

Universities across the state are in discussions for a unified approach to these cuts, and we hope to soon bring a proposal to the Board of Governors. We will keep you informed as these plans progress.

As a result of the budget cuts, we’ve had to put on hold our collaboration with UMKC to bring a dental school to Joplin (which also means the Psychology Department will stay where it is for the time being). However, the project remains a priority for both schools, and we will continue toward securing state funding to make it happen.

While these cuts are difficult for all of us, we remain steadfast in our mission here at Missouri Southern – and that is to continue to provide an outstanding university experience for our students. I thank each and every one of you for your contributions and commitment to making that mission a reality.

Yours to Lose 

Dr. Richard Schooler speaks to prospective students about the Yours to Lose program.

When the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences opens the doors of its new Joplin medical school campus this fall, it will also mark the official start of an exciting and exclusive partnership with Missouri Southern.

We recently hosted visits by groups of students from across the country who are candidates for the first Yours to Lose Advanced Medical School Acceptance Program cohort. These students had an opportunity to participate in interviews; tour the campus, area hospitals, and the new KCU location; and to learn more about the exciting program that will gain them early admittance into medical school.

I want to thank Dr. Richard Schooler, dean of Health Sciences; Donna Johnson, associate professor of biology and environmental health; Derek Skaggs, director of admissions; and Dr. James Donelson, associate professor of chemistry, for all of their hard work in preparation for these visits. And, hats off to the team from KCU, which also spent a considerable amount of time preparing for the meetings.

It’s an exciting program, and one that will help cement this region’s importance as a medical hub.

New roles, new faces

You may have seen the recent announcement that Julie Wengert has accepted the position of Dean of Student Success and Support.

In this new role, she will help coordinate our efforts to promote student retention, success and degree completion. Retention is a major focus for the University Council, and we look forward to working with Julie to accomplish these goals.

I also want to take a moment to welcome several new faces to campus.

Michelle Wood recently joined the staff of the Office of Development as Director of Leadership Annual Giving. A 1992 graduate of Missouri Southern, she’s a former director of Barceda Families and director of talent acquisition for Leggett & Platt Inc. Michelle will work to engage friends and alumni and seek annual support for departments and scholarships.

Chelsea Conley has also joined the Development team as Director of Donor Relations. The former director of Art Feeds Carthage, she is in charge of the overall stewardship plan to further engage current supporters of Missouri Southern.

She is replacing Dr. Delores Honey, who is retiring after more than 30 years of service to the university. Please take an opportunity to thank Delores for her commitment to MSSU and all she has done over the years.

Finally, we also welcome Brett Meeker back to campus as Director of Concurrent Enrollment. A 2000 graduate who spent more than 12 years working for the Missouri Public Defender system, Brett will be overseeing the dual-credit program, which allows high-school students to earn credit for taking university-level courses.

Student athletes

I also want to take a moment to recognize several of our outstanding student athletes.

Emily Presley

Vincent Kiprop recently broke his own 3k record by more than 13 seconds during a meet at Pittsburg, and for the second straight year has been named the national Men’s Cross Country Scholar-Athlete of the Year by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Bryan Burns also broke his own shot put record, finishing first with a distance of 59-04.75. That’s nine inches over his previous record and finds him ranked second in the nation.

Both were recently named MIAA Track and Field Athletes of the Week.

Women’s pole vaulter Emily Presley was recently named MIAA Women’s Field Athlete of the Week. During the recent Pitt State competition, she won with a vault of 14-00.00. That tops the Division II by more than 10 inches and the MIAA by more than 13.

Congratulations to these three students. The commitment and dedication to their sports is outstanding.

Child Development Center

Finally, mark your calendars for March 28. The Child Development Center will open the doors of their new facility across the street, offering tours and the unveiling of a brand new name: Lion Cub Academy.

The 14,000-square-foot building – we’ve known it as the Joplin Regional Center – is currently in the exciting final stages of its renovation. The expansion is a great opportunity not only for the families who are being served, but for our own students as they get hands-on training in the field of early childhood education.

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I know I thanked you earlier for all that you do here to ensure the success of Missouri Southern and our students, but it bears repeating. Your service is appreciated more than I can say.

Be proud to call yourselves Lions!