Board of Curators discusses textbook affordability, student housing changes

A new partnership with Cengage and updated housing and dining rates headlined the November board meeting.
Avery Welker, UM System student representative, was sworn into his position on Sept. 20, 2018. Courtesy of Twitter via @UMsystem

The UM System Board of Curators met last week at the University of Missouri, St. Louis to discuss enrollment and acceptance data, changes to student housing and dining, a plan to reduce textbook cost and a number of other topics.

Student Representative Report

The UM System Board of Curators meeting on Nov. 15 and 16 began differently than in the past, with the introduction of Avery Welker, student representative to the board. Welker will receive his master’s degree in petroleum engineering from Missouri Science & Technology in December, and will continue working for his Ph.D.

Welker spoke about a number of different student accomplishments and concerns from the four universities in his report. His report for MU included the university’s success in this year’s homecoming service events and projects, as well as the establishment of a financial assistance fund for graduate students in financial crisis by the MU Graduate Professional Council.

Housing and dining affordability changes

During the Finance Committee portion of Thursday’s meeting, Ryan Rapp, UM System Chief Finance Officer, introduced changes for student housing and dining at MU for the the 2020 fiscal year in order to keep prices more affordable and competitive with those of the Columbia housing market.

These changes include keeping all residence halls open for fall, winter and spring breaks, making dining plans easier to understand for students and reducing rates for over one-third of available rooms. Housing rates will range from $3,999 to $9,995 per year, while dining rates will range from $1,650 to $3,760 per year. Rapp said with these modifications in place, 83 percent of MU students are expected to pay less for room and board next year.

“I think it’s important [students] have the ability to know what their on-campus rates are going to be for next year,” Rapp said. “I think we’re continuing to keep our commitment to low-cost options."

A project approval was also passed at the meeting to begin repairs to the exterior of the MU Health Care Women and Children’s Hospital. While the repair project’s cost was previously estimated at $16 to $20 million, the estimated cost is now $26 million. The project will be funded by the hospital’s own reserves.

New bachelor’s degree program

In the Academic, Student Affairs and Research & Economic Development Committee meeting, a new Bachelor of Science in Computing Technology degree program for UMSL was passed. Teresa Thiel, associate dean of UMSL College of Arts and Sciences, introduced the degree program, citing that six out of 10 Missouri jobs with the “best outlook for employment” are in the computing science and technology area.

Thiel said that the computing technology studies vary from the information technology studies already offered at MU, but remain complementary to these studies.

“We anticipate increased opportunities for cross-campus collaboration in these two complementary programs,” Thiel said.

University application rate update

Friday’s meeting began with a report from University of Missouri Board Chair David Steelman. Steelman expressed his satisfaction with progress made over the past year, crediting “the whole university family” with the positive changes.

“One of the real concerns that we had in this university was our very broken relationship with Missouri,” Steelman said. “We were a punchline in campaigns and people in office for a while. We’ve now got to the point that Governor Parson has written a letter praising us for the movement we’ve made. We’re back to having the respect of every member of the legislature.”

Steelman said applications are up more than 20 percent.

“The glass is way more than half full,” he said.

Textbook affordability partnership and unified campus technology

UM System President Mun Choi announced a new partnership with Cengage, one of the largest textbook distributors in the U.S. Choi said the partnership will save UM students an estimated $3 million on textbooks and course materials.

Kevin Stone, chief sales and marketing officer at Cengage, said students will be able to subscribe to Cengage Unlimited, which will allow them access to e-books, access codes and other resources.

“Textbooks cost on average, $1,200 for a freshman student per year,” Choi said. “That is a number that makes students think twice about purchasing books that they absolutely need to be successful.”

Stone said this will be the first system-wide implementation for the company.

Choi also announced Project Unify for Student Success, an initiative to combine the enterprise software systems used at all four campuses.

“It is unacceptable that we have PeopleSoft, Canvas, Starfish and Slate implemented at four universities in four different manners,” he said. “They can’t communicate with each other.”

Choi said the project should be complete by October 2019, but that it’s not going to be easy to implement.

UM System president’s report

Another new development in Choi’s report was a proposed new process for the selection of quality department chairs. Under the new process, the dean would be in charge of appointing a department chair from a pool of diverse candidates, along with a committee of faculty, staff, students and external partners.

Choi presented data on enrollment and research grants. According to his report, the Columbia campus expects an 8.9 percent increase in enrollment in fall 2019. MU research awards for July to October 2018 were up 16.4 percent from a year ago.

"None of us are really satisfied with where we are," Choi said. "We have to grow that even more.”

Two UM researchers, Rachel Winograd of UMSL and Holly Hagle of University of Missouri, Kansas City, recently received a $36 million grant for research on the U.S. opioid crisis. The MU College of Education eMINTS National Center also received $22 million to train teachers in 58 high-need, rural middle schools and seven districts with high poverty rates.

Choi also presented expectations for the future. MU has set goals to attain a six year graduation rate of 80 percent by 2023. Choi said he hopes to see continued gains in research funding and enrollment as well.

“There’s nothing more important than graduation rates and research expenditures for a public research university,” he said.

The UM System is restructuring the organization of the Precision Medicine Initiative and the Translational Precision Medicine Complex. Part of that restructuring will involve a search for a project manager who will report directly to both Choi and MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright.

Incoming staff reduction and program elimination

Marshall Stewart, UM system chief engagement officer, discussed the need for better stewardship throughout the UM system.

“We lost trust, we lost relationship, we lost the narrative,” Stewart said of MU’s past relationship between students, staff and executives that was essentially destroyed after mishandling of the 2015 protests.

Stewart presented the need for leaders to adjust to all things and improve themselves as needed. He also talked about a reduction in staff and administration going forward.

“We have a good portion of staff that are happy,” Stewart said, “we have a portion that are not and it’s all about dialogue.”

Stewart stressed the “Listen to Learn, Learn to Lead” approach, which calls on the staff to review and distill everything they do on a day to day basis before adjusting and then adjusting again. The vice chancellor of MU Extension also introduced a new staffing structure, which will change the number of professors and administrators hired by the university and the addition of strategic partnerships and programs. The vice chancellor also opened up about the fact that critical decisions will be made in regards to the elimination of programs and services, such as certain classes and professors as well as the reduction of administration and communications.

Edited by Emily Wolf |

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