As I have noted on multiple occasions, one of our greatest challenges lies in the retention and graduation of our undergraduate students. We accept and graduate outstanding students, but too many of them leave before graduation and those who remain take more than four years to earn a degree. While we can debate the merits of college as a time to explore and grow, the stark reality is that the Texas Legislature is moving to fund universities based on their success in increasing retention rates as well as timely completion of a degree. For example, ASU currently receives formula funding based on student enrollment on the 20th day of a semester; now the legislature is moving toward funding based on the number of students still enrolled at the end of a semester.
Over the past 18 months, we have implemented initiatives to increase our retention and graduation rates at the undergraduate level. The third floor of the library is now a student resource center with tutoring labs and advising centers. Each academic college has also established support services specific to its disciplines. One of our Title V grants as a Hispanic Serving Institution has provided funding to extend programs to all students to increase retention and student success. Thus, the logical next step is to create a single point of responsibility to ensure that these separate efforts coalesce to achieve our retention and graduation goals. At the May Board of Regents meeting, we will propose the creation of a “Freshman College” that will be the academic unit to house, direct and monitor the various activities currently in place and those in the planning stages.
A second challenge which has emerged over the past year relates to the increased number of veterans studying at public institutions of higher education in Texas. As a veteran and Air Force retiree, I firmly back initiatives and efforts that support our men and women in uniform. At the same time, I am also responsible for the well being of all of our students, especially when it comes to using funds to support their success at ASU. Thus, the unintended impact of the Hazelwood Act has become a topic of concern. Historically, Hazelwood has provided tuition and fee waivers for up to 150 credit hours to veterans who are residents of Texas. At the last session, the legislature extended the Act to allow service personnel to transfer this benefit to their dependents. The financial impact of this decision means that ASU must waive tuition and fees for these individuals. Thus, even though our enrollment has increased nearly 900 students over the past four years, we now waive over $1.2 million per year compared with roughly $200,000 before the Act was revised. As a result, nearly every new dollar we have realized due to increased enrollment has been used to offset the waivers mandated by Hazelwood rather than to support campus-based initiatives. This issue is on the minds of all Texas public university presidents and chancellors as we begin to prepare for the next legislative session.
Finally, we have several senior-level searches under way. I expect a new Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, as well as a new Athletic Director, to be named by mid-May as these national searches come to conclusion. Recently, Dr. Brian May was named as the permanent Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs following a nearly year-long national search.
I hope to see many of you at graduation in May, and I hope that your summer is both restful and enjoyable.
Joseph C. Rallo