Surviving, Thriving, and Becoming Exceptional at CCSU
Higher education and the Connecticut State College and University system may be undergoing “uncertain and somewhat turbulent times,” but it’s time for CCSU to set out on a “really bold new course to become exceptional.” That surprise declaration came from President Jack Miller at the University’s Opening Meeting in Alumni Hall on Aug. 28.
Challenging the packed crowd of faculty and staff, he said, “It’s not my ambition in life to just survive. We can build on what we’ve accomplished, but we’ve really got to reach for much loftier goals.” With great conviction he added, “We need to set a realistic goal, and I think a realistic goal for us is to be an exceptional, regional public comprehensive university.”
While the University’s current financial climate is marked by decreases in state funding and in the declining number of high school students seeking higher education, the University has taken control of its destiny and is working to survive, he assured everyone. Some of the steps include retaining a higher percentage of students, increasing the number of private gifts, expanding revenue producing activities, and utilizing grants and contracts to increase resources for new teaching and research.
“We’re doing a lot of those things, so we’ve already proved we are surviving, but well beyond that, we are thriving in many ways,” he declared and then turned to his favorite tool for proving a case, data.
He pointed out, that during the last seven years, CCSU has changed the way it conducts business which resulted in successfully moving the full-time graduation rate up 11 percent; financial aid grew 172 percent to $91 M, and annual gifts increased 385 percent to $5.3 M, and the number of students going abroad for an international learning experience more than doubled, from 220 students to 457.
The President’s standard for judging whether CCSU could, in fact, climb the academic ladder, was based on eight universities he had researched during the summer and deemed them “good company to be in.” The universities included: Boise State, California Polytechnic State, Eastern Carolina, George Mason, Illinois State, Indiana State, James Madison, and Old Dominion. Miller displayed a series of PowerPoint charts to illustrate how CCSU stacked up against the “eight,” and using statistics about student selectivity, enrollment, student profile, student success, fees, and cost factors, he presented his case.
“In the middle,” he repeated again and again to emphasize where Central landed more often than not. It led the President to ask, “So are we all that different [from the eight]? I think the answer is we are far more like those institutions than we are different from those institutions. It’s not reaching for stars. With a bold course, a firm plan, and the support of all constituencies, we can become exceptional.”
To become exceptional, Miller said, Central needs to grow in numbers and campus size; it’s one of the biggest differences between CCSU and the select eight. CCSU landed in the lower third for overall enrollment, therefore, increasing both student retention and graduation rates are a necessity, according to Miller. He also called for maintaining a “strong commitment to liberally educating our students,” and to expanding graduate programming and increasing enrollment of full- and part-time graduate students. By increasing out-of-state enrollment to 15 percent, revenue would be “enhanced dramatically,” said President Miller, though he was quick to add that CCSU would remain a Connecticut university, “first and foremost.” The endowment, which doubled in size to $38 million, should be “redoubled to $80 million,” challenged the President.
With more students comes the need for additional facilities. “We have to increase our residential space by a least a double, probably more,” the President estimated. He recommended establishing small residential living spaces for students with special interests, such as academic or social clubs, and giving Central a range of living options for students – a selection now offered at many universities and can be an effective tool in attracting new students. To increase these new living spaces, the President suggested using public-private partnerships.
He also called for building a new school of education and companion magnet school where, together, they would become a laboratory for education change. His vision for an expanded campus also included new indoor athletic facilities and outdoor space for community recreational use. Since the current campus is cramped, he described how the expansion would take place on University land, east of campus and adjacent to the site of a stop along the Hartford-New Britain Busway, now under construction. The Busway could become a central part of the expanded campus, Miller said, and would create a more direct connection to Hartford and New Britain while reducing the carbon footprint.
“We need to expand our presence in downtown New Britain with graduate students and faculty residential space that will be right on the Busway,” the President emphasized. He’d like to see additional classroom space created in CCSU’s Institute for Business Development (ITBD), already located downtown, and expand ITBD’s role in the city’s economic development.
With the Busway comes a new opportunity for Central. The President proposed creating a center in Hartford to more closely connect with Capital Community College, provide graduate programs – especially for those in urban teacher education and social work – and partner with the insurance industry. “There should be a state university presence in Hartford…to help rebuild the city of Hartford,” Miller asserted.
His map to becoming “exceptional” included a call for creating an administrative structure to join the Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology areas, expanding their facilities, and “vastly” increasing the use of technology in teaching and learning.
In wrapping up his presentation, President Miller shared this, “We have to continue to survive, and we are. We have to continue to thrive, and we are. But we have to think bigger. We have to think about what we can be, and how we can become exceptional – not setting our course on survival – but setting our course on exceptional.”