Simmons stresses student success strategies at LU convocation
While tackling challenges resulting from state funding cuts, Lamar University remains steadfast in its commitment to the success of its students, President James Simmons told faculty and staff attending the annual back-to-school convocation.
“Our mission is higher-education instruction and scholarship with a commitment to high quality,” Simmons said Monday (Aug. 15, 2011) as more than 500 gathered in the University Theatre to mark the start of the 2011-2012 academic year.
“We remain steadfastly committed to both and, I might add, both are on a solid footing this morning. We must focus on retention and graduation. Student success must remain top priority. We must understand the obstacles students face in navigating the challenges of higher education.”
While maintaining academic standards, LU must ensure that students get through the maze of issues they face and provide them with the information and support they need to succeed, Simmons said in his annual “state-of-the-university” address. Because of an 18 percent reduction in its state appropriation, Lamar must cut $15.4 million over the next two years. Measures to accomplish this include a hiring freeze on vacant positions, restructuring of some offices, holding the line on class sizes, more energy efficiency and other steps to “tighten our belts.”
But, Simmons said, “In spite of state budget woes, good news is everywhere,” citing Lamar’s move to the Carnegie Classification of Doctoral Research University. In addition, he said, Lamar awards more master’s degrees in chemical engineering and education than any university in the nation. And, thanks to the generosity of friends and supporters, LU has surpassed the $80 million mark in its $100 million comprehensive campaign – gifts that translate into scholarships, faculty enhancements and facilities.
“Lamar will not only survive this downturn, but I pledge that we will prosper during it,” he said, because of enrollment, which stood at close to 14,000 as of Monday morning, as well as student success, outstanding faculty and staff and support from friends and alumni.
Simmons said the number of students attending Lamar this fall constitutes the highest on-campus enrollment ever – despite increased admission requirements. He reported waiting lists for residence halls and parking.
Lamar continues to add courses and programs: The university will enroll its first group of online Ed.D. students this fall and also offer a new online M.Ed. program in counseling. A new online RN-to-BSN program will begin in October.
“You can see why I say Lamar will prosper even during these difficult economic times,” Simmons said.
Strategies for student success, Simmons said, begin with identifying, recruiting, engaging, educating, supporting, retaining and graduating students who will become “proud Lamar alumni.” After careful study and consultation, he said, the university has moved to an approach based on strategic enrollment management.
“Gone are the days of sending students to many different offices to complete the process of enrollment. Instead, we are developing a simplified ‘one-stop’ enrollment process that puts a priority on service,” Simmons said. “All facets of student success are our concern, and it is essential that every one of us work together to make a difference.”
As associate vice president for strategic enrollment management, Sherry Benoit, formerly the university registrar, will oversee a team of enrollment managers that focuses on recruitment, admissions, financial assistance, retention, advisement, registration, enrollment research, academic services, marketing and student life.
“Goals will be strategic,” Simmons said. “Decisions will be data-driven and quickly enacted – and each of us will be a key element in what will become a new campus culture.”
Also at the convocation, officials introduced new faculty and staff members, while Simmons welcomed a contingent of legislators and leaders from The Texas State University System. State Senator Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and TSUS Chancellor Brian McCall spoke to the assembly.
Simmons expressed thanks to three longtime Lamar executives who will retire Aug. 31: Barry Johnson, vice president for student affairs; Dale Fontenot, chief of police; and Billy Tubbs, special assistant/consultant to the president for athletics.