After the shocking news of St. Cloud State University President Earl Potter’s death in June 2016, Ashish Vaidya has been acting as Interim President of the University. Despite having to overcome Potter’s untimely passing and being thrown into this new position, Vaidya said he really admires the strength and resilience of the campus and the community:
“It’s been a whirlwind, as you know, we started the year almost ten months ago. I feel really good about the transition, it’s not the kind that every University should have to go through, but I’ve really been thinking and reflecting on how strong this campus and community is – because, after this big shock, we really haven’t missed a beat.”
He also mentioned the University made some crowning achievements in regards to accreditation: The Higher Learning Comission came to campus this past November and after intense review, SCSU received accreditation for the next ten years and SCSU’s programs that went through accreditation have, “passed with flying colors,” according to Vaidya.
The Interim President said one of his main focuses for integrating the campus and community has been what’s called, “Reimagining The First Year” – a project which started last year as an attempt to engage students in the area. Another one of its primary goals is to make incoming students’ college adjustment easier through integration and inclusiveness.
Vaidya is hoping this will increase retention rates amongst the student population. He also mentioned SCSU has a retention rate of about 70 percent, but said he would like it to be much higher. While campus introduction programs haven’t changed much over the past few years, President Vaidya said there will be some big changes for the class of 2021.
“Retention rates are a national problem across public institutions,” he said. “Part of that problem is closing the achievement gap. We are still leaving many students such as 1st generation students, students of color and under-represented students behind and we can’t afford to do that as an economy and as a society.”
Vaidya said he wants to restructure the way SCSU does orientation for its students. SCSU has traditionally done half day orientation, only to immediately start classes when it’s over. However, over the past two years, the University has done what’s called the “Huskies First Four” where students have a four-day orientation to help them better adjust to campus. This includes ensuring students are taking 15 credits right off the bat so they can graduate on time and providing more opportunities for undecided students to find out what their passion is. Vaidya calls this a “Meta Major Concept” in which students can pick a few majors from a bucket to explore what they’re interested in.
Another project the Interim President has been working on is encompassing students, academics and businesses in the St. Cloud area with a provision called “Strategic Plan Refresh,” where he wants to mold SCSU’s academics to fit into the future of higher education.
“Our strategic plan makes a bold statement,” he said. “We are building the 21st century University and we are staking our claim for that for all of Minnesota.”
While Vaidya said he’s accomplished a lot during his first year as Interim President, challenges from previous years’ retention rates and more impending budget shortages at SCSU have left him with tough decisions to make.
Vaidya said budget cuts are all part of the Strategic Plan Refresh – he mentioned that he’s talked a lot about the outcomes, but explained it’s time to examine the nuts and bolts and figure out what it really means for the future of SCSU.
“We have a responsibility and an obligation to look at the full range of what we offer,” he said. “We have to make sure what we’re offering is both relevant and critical for the success of this region and the greater state of Minnesota.”
The University has a close estimate of 7 million dollars in net opperations and needs approximately 9.6 million for total budget adjustments once reserve and reinvestment requirements are added. These deficits are due in part to the decline in student population and lack of state reinvestment into higher education, something President Vaidya said, is happening nationwide.
The chart above shows financial predictions based off how much revenue the University will obtain from different departments and how much they’ll have in order to allocate funds. With the adjustments in place, another table examines how much revenue out of each department will be needed in order to make up the nearly 11 million dollars the school requires in order to compensate for lost capital.
According to the chart above, approximately 71 percent of the budget needed to reach the University’s financial goals comes from academics at around 8,000 dollars, but Vaidya said that it’s a logical fiscal distribution because academics accumulate the vast majority of SCSU’s funds and that one of his main focuses is ensuring program relevancy.
“We should not be thinking about our offerings in isolation and not simply just ‘ohh this would be nice to do,’ but more about what is needed for this community and the region to be healthy and what is needed from a business standpoint and what is needed from a community standpoint.”
Vaidya said when it comes to evaluating programs that are in consideration for cutting, he said the University administration needs to ask itself the following questions:
- Are the programs still relevant?
- Are they cutting edge?
- Do they meet the needs of the students?
- Do they meet the needs of the region?
- Do they meet the needs of careers?
Vaidya explains once these questions are asked, then it can be determined what majors or minors need to go or that need to be revised and reformed in order for the the programs to meet the set of standards.
Vaidya mentioned that he’s not certain when the University is going to make the cuts, but for students in majors and minors that have potential to be eliminated from the academic system, the programs won’t be phased out until students have graduated from those programs.
As the year comes to a close, President Vaidya states SCSU is doing a lot of great work, but internally there are things that need to be done and said he wants to ensure that students get the best possible education. He says he’s still looking forward on working and expanding on that into next year.