Kent State Board of Trustees Commends Leadership for Strong Enrollment During Pandemic, Approves New Balanced Budget
The Kent State University Board of Trustees congratulated Kent State President Todd Diacon and university leaders on increased retention and graduation rates, as well as a strong Class of 2024, as official fall 2020 enrollment figures were shared at the Board’s regular quarterly meeting held Wednesday, Sept. 16.
Kent State’s increase in the retention of returning students is thanks in part to the university’s award-winning student support services designed to help students every step of the way – from their first day on campus through graduation. The university’s retention rate on the Kent Campus increased to 81.6%. The increased student retention also demonstrates the students’ commitment to remaining on schedule to complete their degrees.
Diacon has made helping Kent State’s students complete a degree a priority, and the university continues to make tremendous progress. Kent State’s commitment to graduating students shows in the Kent Campus’ six-year graduation rate that has now reached a record high of 65.6%, a rise of 3 percentage points from last year. The six-year rate is considered to be the national standard in comparing four-year degree-granting institutions.
For the 2019-2020 academic year, Kent State students earned an impressive 9,497 degrees and certificates.
A strong Kent Campus freshman class boasts an all-time high average GPA of 3.49. Among this year’s freshmen, the percentage of first-generation students has increased to 32.4%, and the percentage of underrepresented students has increased to 17.2%.
University President Addresses Anti-Racism Efforts Following Recent Campus Activities
President Diacon told the Board that the university is facing the dual public health crises of COVID-19 and racism on its campuses. He specifically noted recent incidents in which Kent State’s Rock has been painted with racially offensive language aimed at African American students.
Diacon said the racist incidents are a challenge but also an opportunity for the university to “double down” on establishing and maintaining “a welcoming, affirming, diverse and safe institution.”
Diacon praised the student organization Black United Students (BUS), both for its historic presence on campus since 1968 and its lead role in the creation of the national Black History Month, and for the leadership provided by its members and current President Tayjua Hines.
Diacon said he met with BUS members who offered ideas to help Kent State “match our aspirations with our reality,” and the university has taken action on ideas proposed by BUS, including:
- Installation of security cameras.
- Increase lighting around the Rock.
- Hire more security aides and expand hours for student escort services, including providing these services during the day.
- Promote and enlist the support of BUS to enhance the recruitment and retention of students.
- Implement policies and procedures for painting the Rock.
Board Approves New University Budget for Fiscal Year 2021
The Board approved a $595 million balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2021. The new budget recognizes the importance of affordability and encouraging student success, addresses critical commitments and strategic investments, and reflects the keen emphasis the Board and the university community have placed on effectiveness, efficiency and resource optimization.
Using the “Planning for the Worst and Working for the Best” philosophy as the university continues to deal with extreme uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kent State presented a balanced budget with proposed revenues of $595 million and expenses of $595 million – a $65 million, or 10%, reduction from the prior year.
The budget is based on key revenue assumptions that are conservative, yet realistic, including:
- Tuition and fee revenue is projected at $383.4 million, the product of a very conservative enrollment assumption of 6.5% down compared to last year coupled with increased tuition and fee rates approved by the Board at the June 3, 2020, meeting for the fall 2020 cohort under the tuition guarantee. All other tuition rates remained at last year’s levels with no increases, including continuing students not on a tuition guarantee, graduate students and non-resident surcharges.
- State Share of Instruction (SSI) is projected at $145.3 million, a decrease of $13.7 million from the prior year’s budget based upon an actual reduction of 4.5% for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2021 and the potential for further reduction in SSI (down 10%) for the remainder of the fiscal year, depending upon the state economy.
- Auxiliary revenues are projected at $48.5 million, nearly $28 million less than last year, due to the reduction in on-campus classes and activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The budget is also based on key expense assumptions, including:
- The university will continue to dedicate resources to grow the base funding of financial aid, with an emphasis on the growing needs of Kent State students and families.
- Salary and benefits expenses have decreased significantly – nearly $36 million – due to the net effect of the Fiscal Year 2021 salary adjustment model, the Voluntary Separation Incentive Plan and memorandums of understanding with the Kent State faculty bargaining units as approved at the May 6, 2020, Board meeting.
- New funding commitments that have been made, including an additional $1.6 million dedicated to enhancing student mental health services, $1.2 million in support of off-campus and distance learning, $560,000 for DeWeese Health Center and $120,000 for Kent State Esports.
- No university-sponsored travel is planned this year.
“Our ability to continue to present balanced budgets annually is a testament to the dedicated leadership and strategic focus by all the university’s stakeholders – deans, department heads, faculty and cabinet – all responding in such a meaningful way to develop a budget under the most extreme circumstances,” said Mark Polatajko, Ph.D., Kent State’s senior vice president for finance and administration.
Board Approves New Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence Degree Programs
The Board approved establishing two new degree programs that have growing needs for workers in their respective fields. The College of Applied and Technical Studies will establish the Cybersecurity major within the Associate of Applied Business degree, effective fall 2021, pending approval of the Ohio Department of Higher Education. The Cybersecurity program will be offered fully online or in hybrid mode on all seven Regional Campuses with Kent State University at Trumbull being the admitting campus for first-time applicants. The new major prepares students for careers in information security, as graduates of the program will develop the tools necessary to address current security issues. The need for cybersecurity positions in the United States is expected to increase by 38% by 2028 with the expectation that job openings will triple over the next five years.
The College of Arts and Sciences will establish the Artificial Intelligence major within the Master of Science degree, effective fall 2021, pending approval of the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Higher Learning Commission. The program, offered by the Department of Computer Science, prepares students for career paths where they will apply artificial intelligence to industry, community and military sectors. The program will focus on the areas of intelligent analytics, robotics, and smart communities and automation. The need for artificial intelligence in the United States is growing at an annual rate of 30%-40%.
Board Applauds University’s Reopening of Campuses
The Board heard from university leadership regarding the reopening of Kent State’s campuses and recognized the hard work by many over the summer to plan, prepare and execute the university’s reopening plan. Using a four-phased approach, Kent State has successfully welcomed students, faculty and staff back to its campuses with fall classes being delivered 60% remotely and 40% in person. The university developed and communicated the Flashes Safe Seven, the operating principles to maintain the safety and well-being of the campus community.
Some of the reopening accomplishments shared with the Board include:
- The university staffed up and nearly doubled the number of healthcare professionals.
- The university renovated nearly 1,300 square feet of space in the DeWeese Health Center and added a 1,000-square-foot modular unit to support examination, testing and contact tracing.
- Kent State faculty converted more than 9,000 spring courses to remote instruction in three days.
- More than 1,000 instructors completed weekly and daylong workshops on teaching remotely since March, 800 of whom completed workshops during the summer.
- The university reconfigured space to accommodate physical distancing in instructional, lab and social spaces and administrative work areas across more than 180 buildings in the Kent State system.
- The university configured spaces with signage, labeling, wayfinding and safety guidelines, posting nearly 125,000 signs and labels.
- The skilled trades team from University Facilities Management constructed protective screening for faculty and support staff in high-traffic, in-person service areas to ensure their safety and well-being as they serve students. In a 60-day period, nearly 24,000 square feet of plexiglass was used, which is 4.5 linear miles of plexiglass, equal to the distance from the University Library to the Kent State University Airport.
Among other Board actions:
- The Board approved a resolution of appreciation to Ronald L. Burbick, a key business and civic leader who adopted Kent as his hometown and set upon a bold course to spur its redevelopment. Through both his groundbreaking investments and his staunch advocacy, he is widely regarded as the individual most responsible for the city of Kent’s stunning, award-winning revitalization. Burbick was a generous supporter of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design and the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State. He passed away at the age of 75 on Sept. 6. The Board expressed deep gratitude to Burbick for his extraordinary vision and dedication to revitalizing downtown Kent and enhancing the quality of life for all citizens of the region. The Board also extended its condolences to members of the Burbick family and the broader community.
- The Board approved a resolution of appreciation to Ralph M. Della Ratta. Appointed to the Board on July 13, 2012, Della Ratta has given superb service to the Board, including exceptional leadership as Board vice chair (2016-2018), chair of the External Relations and Development Committee (2015-2018) and chair of the Investment Committee (2013-2018). He served as Board chair from 2018 to 2020 and provided inspired leadership at a momentous time for Kent State, including the national search and selection of Diacon as the university’s 13th president; preparations for the 50th Commemoration of May 4, 1970; planning the largest comprehensive campaign in the university’s history; and steady navigation of the institution during an unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic. Because of his deep commitment to the advancement of Kent State, the Board has designated Della Ratta as Trustee Emeritus of Kent State.
- The Board approved a resolution of appreciation to Michael D. Solomon, who was elected as the first-ever national trustee of Kent State by the Board on Dec. 13, 2011. Through his committed service to his alma mater and his success as an entrepreneur, investor, senior executive and Board member in early stage technology companies and emerging growth companies, Solomon has demonstrated the premier leadership, cutting-edge thinking and commitment the Board envisioned in creating this role. As an entering freshman at Kent State in fall 1970, Solomon provided tireless and inspired leadership as the national chair of the 50th Commemoration of May 4, 1970, contributing his time and philanthropy generously to advance national initiatives. Because of his deep commitment and contributions to the advancement of Kent State as a member of the Board, the Board has designated Solomon as Trustee Emeritus of Kent State.
- The Board approved a resolution of appreciation to Nicholas Kollar, who was appointed to the Board on May 17, 2018. Kollar served two years on the Board as the undergraduate student trustee. He will earn his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Finance and Economics in December 2020. The Board expressed sincere gratitude to Kollar for his outstanding service and wished him the very best in his future pursuits.
- The Board authorized the sale of two real estate parcels that have been identified as surplus real estate assets by the university and available for disposition. The university will enter into contracts for 6.93 acres located at 6029 Powdermill Road in Franklin Township for $165,000 and 25 acres of vacant land on Powdermill Road in Franklin Township for $312,500. Both of these are the appraised value for the properties.
- The Board authorized the conveyance of vacant land that the university has been unable to identify a strategic use for the property, given its location and restrictions on use. The vacant land is located along and between Educational Highway NW and state Route 5 in Champion Heights. The university will take any action necessary to convey the property, subject to approvals required by the state of Ohio.
- The Board approved the vendor selection for natural gas services to the Kent Campus, Regional Campuses, the College of Podiatric Medicine and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) for the period beginning July 1, 2023. Kent State uses natural gas to provide building heat and domestic hot water as well as to produce power for the Kent Campus. Traditionally, NEOMED has been included in Kent State’s natural gas services contracts to realize the benefit of combined purchasing, including improved pricing. Direct Energy Business Marketing LLC provided the best overall value for natural gas service to the Regional Campuses, the College of Podiatric Medicine and certain accounts at NEOMED, and IGS Energy provided the proposal with the best overall value for natural gas service to the Kent Campus and certain accounts at NEOMED. The university will enter into purchase agreements with both companies, each for five years with an option for the university to renew the agreement for up to five one-year periods. The total cost of the purchase agreements will be funded by University Facilities Management, Energy Operations.
- The Board approved the vendor selection for a new learning management system and related implementation services in order to ensure the university is providing the best framework through which learning content may be managed by faculty and delivered to students. Instructure/Canvas provided the proposal with the best overall value. The university will enter into a contract with Instructure/Canvas for a term of three years at $1,560,332 with a university option to renew up to two additional one-year periods. This will be funded through current information technology operating budget resources dedicated to the management of the current systems.
- The Board approved the vendor selection for a network data center firewall. In response to a request for proposal issued by Inter-University Council Purchasing Group, CDW-G/Palo Alto provided the proposal with the best overall value. The university will enter into a contract with CDW-G/Palo Alto for the provision of a network data center firewall, including a five-year maintenance warranty, at the estimated cost of $1.26 million to be funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.
- The Board approved the vendor selection for network equipment refresh and modernization to support, maintain and update the core network functionality and extend capability of services due to increased demand and required functionality. In response to a request for proposal issued by the Inter-University Council Purchasing Group, CDW Government LLC provided the proposal with the best overall value. The university will enter into a contract with CDW Government for the provision of network equipment and related services at the estimated cost not to exceed $4 million to be funded by CARES Act funding.
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