Candid conversation with the president

This week’s installment of the Current series, which exposes students to various aspects of student life, includes an interview with NSU President George L. Hanbury II. Hanbury was a city manager in three cities and served as NSU’s Chief Operating Officer for 13 years. He became president and chief executive officer of NSU in 2010. 

 

Q: The first question is in regard to undergraduate admissions and graduation rates. The University of Miami currently has the lowest admission rate in the state, at 39.2 percent, and a 4-year graduation rate of 68 percent, amongst the highest in the state. NSU, in comparison, has an admissions rate of 53.3 percent, amongst the highest in the state, and an undergraduate graduation rate of 41 percent, amongst the lowest in the state. What is NSU doing to: (a) decrease its admissions rate, and (b) increase its 4-year graduation rate, in a way that attracts the best and brightest students to the university? 

A: NSU, as you know, is in a very unique situation, as only 20 percent of its student body is undergraduate students. With the undergraduate program being a little under 20 years old, there are inconsistencies that have to be resolved, including our admissions and graduation rates. Currently, NSU has an undergraduate student population of 6,000 students; half of which are traditional, while the other half is non-traditional. NSU’s undergraduate requirements have been, for career students especially, relaxed, with the minimum cumulative GPA required to be admitted at a 2.2. Over the next five years, that requirement will rise to a 3.0, for both traditional and non-traditional students. Because a student’s previous cumulative GPA is one the best indicators of how successful the student will be at the undergraduate level, once we raise the minimum GPA required to be admitted into the undergraduate program, over time, the graduation rate will steadily increase.

 

Q: Florida International University was established in 1965, one year after NSU was established. While the two universities took different paths, both are currently ranked in the second tier of national universities. While one might argue that any comparison between a public and private institution is unfair, one area where FIU trumps NSU is endowment; money and property donated to an academic institution for its general welfare, some of which goes towards scholarships and the procurement of academic resources. FIU’s endowment, as of 2010, sits at $153 million, while NSU’s endowment as of 2010 sits at only $54.2 million. What is NSU doing to increase its private donor base? 

A: There are two factors that currently negatively affect the university’s endowment. First, NSU has an alumni population of 145,000, but less than 2 percent of alumni give. Second, often times, people give to a center, school or college within the university, but not to the university itself. As part of Vision 2020, NSU’s goal is to increase the endowment to $150 million. How we hope to achieve this is by ensuring the current student body at NSU has a rewarding a student experience, so as to ensure that they graduate with affinity for the institution and are compelled to give back. Second, we will be establishing alumni chapters and will pursue other initiatives with and amongst current NSU alumni to instill a sense of affinity for the institution, which will increase the number of alumni who give back to the university. Third and finally, we will continue to pursue large private donations by marketing the growth and advancement that has taken place at the university.

 

Q: Tuition at UM is higher than NSU by at least $10,000/year. A closer look at the statistics, however, reveal that 37 percent of students at UM have their financial needs fully met, while that number at NSU stands at 11 percent. An even further look reveals that the average need-based scholarship or grant award at UM is $23,552, while that number at NSU stands at $12,028. What is NSU doing to provide immediate solutions to the issues of student financial need? 

A: This question ties very much into your last question regarding the university’s endowment. The greater the endowment, the more we can draw from it for scholarships for students. Typically, academic institutions draw no more than 10 percent from its endowment annually to fund student scholarships. With the endowment currently at $54 million, NSU can only draw a maximum of $5 million to fund scholarships per year. However, an increase in the endowment to $150 million means that the university could draw up to $15 million to fund scholarships per year. In addition to the endowment, grants help the university to maintain a lower cost of attendance per student. Cost of attendance is what it costs the university to educate each student, while tuition is what is actually paid by each student towards his or her cost of attendance. Endowments and grants typically help to cover the difference between the two. NSU is looking to aggressively seek research grants, as a means of ensuring that the university can cover the difference between the cost of attendance and tuition per student.

 

Q: NSU has the lowest class size in the state, with 76 percent of classes having 20 or fewer students. FIU is at the higher end of the spectrum, with only 23 percent of its classes having 20 or fewer students. Despite this, the numbers reveal something rather interesting: freshman retention — an indicator of student satisfaction—at FIU is 81 percent, while it is only 67 percent at NSU. What is NSU doing to improve the academic experience for undergraduate students? 

A: This question has a direct link to your first question regarding admissions and graduation rates for undergraduate students. One of the ways in which we hope to address concerns with the undergraduate academic experience is to increase admissions standards. An increase in admissions standards will result in — over time — less students leaving the university. Students who are not academically prepared for college-level coursework typically end up leaving college, regardless of which college they attend. We do our students a great service by ensuring that our admissions standards match the rigor of the undergraduate academic programs. The other factor that typically determines whether students leave or stay at NSU is finances, which is directly linked to your third question regarding student financial need. By increasing the amount of scholarships available to talented students, we can, over time, decrease the number of students who leave the university because of financial reasons.

 

Q: What is Vision 2020? How does it attempt to improve student life and create a unified NSU identity? 

A: Vision 2020 is essentially a master plan for how the university will proceed in developing and advancing NSU. The plan includes a revamped mission statement, pointed objectives and core values. In achieving the goals set forth in Vision 2020, the objective is to do them in a way that does not compromise the university’s values or the trust and confidence that the student body has in the university.

 

Q: At the University of Miami, student representatives sit as voting members of all university-wide committees. There is even a student trustee (with voting power) on the Board of Trustees at UM. The idea behind this form of student governance is that students should be empowered and have just as much stake in the success of the university as faculty, staff and administration. What is your opinion about NSU’s university-wide committees having voting student representatives? What is your opinion about NSU’s Board of Trustees having a voting student Trustee?

A: It has not been the tradition at NSU for students to sit as voting members on the Board of Trustees and university-wide committees. Students at NSU tend to be tactical in nature, while administrators tend to be strategic in nature. And so, the challenges in having students sit on the Board of Trustees and university-wide committees are: first, are these opportunities that students at NSU want; second, can students make the transition from thinking tactically to thinking strategically in order to make decisions of grave importance for the welfare of the university; and third, is having voting student representatives in this manner something that is possible here at NSU? Whether or not these measures will be taken in the future is unknown, but in the meantime, the input of our students is encouraged and always welcome. I have, personally, made it a priority to attend as many student events and town hall meetings as possible, so that students feel comfortable approaching me about the issues that concern them, and so that I have the opportunity to reassure students that we are working hard to solve issues, and to talk about the changes that are soon to come at NSU that will improvement student life. Additionally, students have PanSGA, a consortium of all student governments at NSU that act as the voice of the student body. The student governments, as well as PanSGA, are resources that students should use when they have issues and concerns. These are mechanisms that serve the student body, and students should do everything in their power to hold their elected and appointed officials accountable.

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