UM President Tim Wolfe focuses on rising enrollment in speech

Friday, February 1, 2013 | 5:11 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — UM System President Tim Wolfe said he considers the University of Missouri System's continued enrollment growth to be the dominant theme of his first year as president.

Wolfe delivered his first State of the University on Friday, speaking before the UM System Board of Curators at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Since 2001, the system has seen a 34 percent jump in enrollment, adding 19,000 students — enough to create another four-year institution, Wolfe said.

"The lead story for the University of Missouri System in 2012 was our continued record growth," Wolfe said.

The system's total enrollment grew 2 percent in 2012, according to board documents, and now stands at more than 75,000 students overall.

In the context of a rising student population, Wolfe revisited the strategic priorities he outlined in 2012 to assess the system's progress in his first year and potential for the future.

He mentioned advances in online learning, including the development of more than 125 online courses and 12 certificate or degree programs in the past two years that were funded by the system's Office of Academic Affairs.

Wolfe touched on his priority of communicating the system's value to Missourians. He said he's noticed a growing skepticism about higher education.

"Some people will tell you that a college education doesn't pay off like it used to, that students graduate with debt they'll never get out under," he said. "I’m here to tell you they’re wrong."

Wolfe said another of his priorities, strategic planning, will provide the framework and focus for the system's future.

Under his plan, each campus will draft a strategy statement that must describe how each institution will define itself within the system, compete with other universities nationally and achieve specified goals over the next five years.

"People think of strategic planning as a check-the-box exercise that produces reports that never see the light of day," he said. "But the strategy for each campus and the system will drive tradeoffs — what we will do and by implication what we will not do. It influences our budget, who we hire and what kind of students we bring to campus."

In December, each campus presented a rough draft of its strategy statement to the Board of Curators. UM System spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead said the campuses' finalized strategy statements will be unveiled at the curators' June meeting.

At that time, the board will see a version of the system budget that's largely shaped by the state appropriations the General Assembly provides in its fiscal year 2014 budget, which is finalized in May.

State funding to the UM System has decreased by more than 10 percent since 2001, putting Missouri 44th in the nation in overall state higher education funding in 2012, according to system documents.

Wayne Goode, chairman of the Board of Curators, said in a post-meeting news conference Friday that Missouri is a low-tax state whose finances are "spread thin."

On Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon called for additional funding for higher education in his annual State of the State address.

Nixon's budget plan suggested an increase of $34 million to public colleges and universities in the state, or an average increase of 4 percent for each school.

Under Nixon's plan, a list of performance measures — such as increased graduation rates, increased student retention and improved learning — would determine how much of the $34 million pot each school receives in fiscal year 2014.

Last year, the UM System met all of the proposed performance measures and would receive a 4.3 percent increase in funding, $16.9 million, under Nixon's plan, according to the document listing the governor's proposed budget increases.

Meanwhile, tuition has been raised by an average 2.3 percent annually for in-state undergraduate students over the past five years, according to a statement released earlier by Wolfe.

On Thursday, the curators approved increasing tuition and fees by the inflation rate, 1.7 percent, for in-state undergraduates beginning in summer 2013.

The hike lifts MU's annual in-state undergraduate average tuition by $158, to $9,343 per year.

Also at Friday's meeting, the board adopted a change to its existing bylaws that requires all committee members be present to vote on business at special committee meetings. Previously, it was possible for two members of a three-member committee, such as the board's executive committee, to constitute a quorum and vote on committee business with no one else present. 

This week marked the first meetings for curators Ann Covington, of Columbia, and John Phillips, of Kansas City. Both were appointed by Nixon in January and approved by the state Senate on Thursday.

The board meets next on April 11 and 12 at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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