President hosts town hall meeting
Tamonda Griffiths—News Writer
During the president and faculty senate’s annual town hall, President Joe Bertolino outlined the work going on at the university.
This spring, Bertolino said he hopes “to break ground on the new Health and Human Services building.
By the end of the semester he said, hopefully the dedication of the Barack H. Obama Magnet University School will take place.
“We will finish out 125th anniversary, it will culminate into a gala,” said Bertolino.
Bertolino said while the university has many things to look forward to, he wanted faculty, staff, and administration to remember the “complexities” of students.
“Most of our students – we hear a lot about our student population and their socio-economic status,” said Bertolino. “The truth is that most of our students come from working families, so they may be Pell eligible or they may not be Pell eligible, but most of them are caught in the middle.”
Bertolino said most of the student population are middle class or lower middle class and sometimes have difficulty about making ends meet and how they are going to pay their tuition.
According to Bertolino, as tuition prices have continued to rise financial assistance has not kept up.
“When students can’t eat, when they have no place to sleep, when they have little family encouragement for bettering their lives through education,” said Bertolino, “we must do more than offer classes and assignments.”
Since the start of the university’s Swipe It Forward program, Bertolino said over 166 meals have been donated to students in need.
The university, Bertolino said, is well aware of the enrollment decline of seven percent over the past five years; 0.5 percent in undergraduate admissions and 28 percent in graduate admissions.
Courses and programs, Bertolino said need to be offered when they best meet the demands of a student’s life.
“Time and again, I hear from students that they can’t complete their degree in timely fashion,” said Bertolino.
When he was in college, there was a plan for students that could be followed in order to graduate within the prescribed four-year span, he said implementing the new advising model, as well as a full-year course schedule, would help students do that.
“We need to begin to explore offering certain classes more than once a year,” said Bertolino.
Many programs and courses, Bertolino said were created with the traditional full-time student in mind.
In fall of 2017, 72 percent of freshmen returned to Southern that semester as opposed to in fall of 2016 when 78 percent of freshmen had returned.
“The steepest decline was amongst students who were in health and human services, primarily nursing,” said Associate Vice President for Enrollment, Terricita Sass, at the town hall, “and we also saw another large decline with students who are undeclared.”
Sass said she is often asked to ask students why they decided to leave the university, but found surveys to be ineffective with students.
“You get about a – a lot of work, for maybe about a three to five percent return,” said Sass, “so that traditionally has not worked.”
If Southern does not retain and more students, Bertolino said the reputation among prospective students will decline, and the lack of students will mean less state funding. “
Student enrollment in online and hybrid course has increased by 22 and 23 percent, respectively,” said Bertolino. “And that’s with a limited number of course offerings.”
Bertolino said offering online and hybrid courses are complex.
He said the university has been conducting research on Charter Oak, where everything is online.
“Most of our students want a combination of both [online/hybrid courses and on-campus courses],” said Bertolino.
“Despite the fact that our student to faculty ratio of 14:1 is the second lowest among all public institutions,” said Bertolino, “our six-year graduation rate for fall 2016, was the second worst in the state at 52 percent.”
English professor, Michael Shea said he is curious to know where the student to faculty average comes from.
“You could count on Mickey Mouse’s hands the number of 100 and 200-level courses that have 15 students or fewer in them,” said Shea.
The ratio of 14:1, Shea said should be present in the 100 and 200-level courses in order to boost and “guarantee” retention.
He said students would then be able to get the education and attention they deserve.
Photo Credit: William Aliou