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"The University of Memphis: A Bargain and an Investment"

Speech to Memphis Rotary Club
January 22, 2002

Initially, I had thought I would talk with you about the relationship between The University of Memphis and the business community of Memphis and propose some partnerships for our future work together. But given that my first semester on the job has been consumed by what is happening or nor happening with the legislature, accreditation concerns for our College of Business and Economics, and the largest tuition increases in the history of the state, I decided to talk with you about higher education trends that will effect our economy and our destiny as citizens.

The University of Memphis bears the name of our city and the very critical issues we are now facing at the University of Memphis affect our economy and our future. These issues touch the lives of the over 16,000 students from Shelby County who attend the University of Memphis and the over one billion dollars of economic impact we have on this geographic area.

I know that many of you are committed to higher education because you are college graduates and you want your children and your employees to graduate from college. I have met with many of you and have had extensive conversations about the role that The University of Memphis can play in the economic and cultural development of this city and our Mid-South region..

Among recent headlines concerning the University of Memphis was the story of our tuition increase in Tennessee. Tuition at the University of Memphis, as well as tuition at all schools governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, and also at the University of Tennessee, rose last fall by 15 percent. Our records show that this is the highest tuition increase ever for students in the state of Tennessee. But it is necessary for the institutions of higher learning, including the University of Memphis to maintain our programs and serve our students.

Actually, the additional 15% did not address our profound needs. Last year's appropriations gave our faculty and staff an across the board raise of 2.5%, and we used the entire tuition revenue to increase faculty salaries using a merit system. We applied two-thirds of the funds to the top one-third of the faculty. Without an additional salary increase, we would have lost more good faculty to lesser universities and would have had great difficulty attracting replacements. We must continue to adjust our faculty salaries to attract and retain excellent faculty.

You know I am a college professor, so I want to digress and give you a brief history lesson on higher education in Tennessee and a few statistics and demographic data that will help you understand the need for increased appropriation and why we as a state must face future population trends that necessitate more support of higher education, not less.

Through the 1980s, the State of Tennessee gained significant attention nationally as a state committed to the education of its population. It was perceived as recognizing the importance of higher education as the backbone to economic vitality and the improved quality of life. Among the southern states, we were considered a leader in higher education growth and development. We were recognized for the dramatic increase in Chairs and Centers of Excellence at our universities, for our emphasis on accredited programs, for increasing the quality of our graduates and for improvements to our facilities. We have 25 Chairs of Excellence and five Centers of Excellence at The University of Memphis, more than any other public university in the state.

Today, however that perception and its reality have changed. While many states within the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) were taking advantage of the economic boom of the 90's to build upon their higher education foundations, Tennessee stagnated and fell behind. Other states in the so-called "New South" understood the need to provide support to education, particularly higher education, as a means to stabilize an ever-shifting economy. Other states were acutely aware that to retain "the best and the brightest" required quality higher education opportunities.

Because Tennessee failed to grasp the educational "brass ring" in the 90s, it now must find ways and means to "catch-up" to her neighbors and to the nation. Tennessee is becoming less competitive in attracting leading academicians and scholars, those individuals who are educators for a cutting-edge economy. The state is losing too many of its better potential students to other states with better facilities, lower student-faculty rations, and diverse educational opportunities.

We have some good news in the demographics. According to the SREB, the South's population growth in the next 10 years is projected to increase by an average of 7%, with growth in Tennessee expected to be at 9%, second only to Texas at 10%. In the 1990s, increases in the number of high school graduates in Tennessee outpaced the national average (12.8% versus 8.9%). This trend is expected to increase dramatically over the next 10 years. By the year 2010, just nine years from now, the SREB states are expected to increase high school graduates by 10%, the national average; however, that increase in high school graduates in Tennessee is expected to be a significant 30%, the highest increases in the SREB region, and 20% above the national average. That is wonderful news, more high school graduates in Tennessee. Of course, this will place dramatic pressures on Tennessee's colleges and universities to provide a greater enrollment in higher education. These statistics do not begin to address the educational needs for older, non-traditional students. Students of all ages must have access to quality higher education to fully participate in our knowledge-driven economy of the future.

Unfortunately, the fiscal commitment by the State of Tennessee is falling woefully short of the requirements to meet our present educational needs, and is not prepared for the predicted increase in high school graduates who want to attend college. Enrollments in higher education institutions have increased 12%, while operating appropriations from the state (adjusted for inflation) have increased only 3.4%. In 1990, the average faculty salary in Tennessee was 3.4% above the national average, and today it is 6.2% below the national average.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic facts underlying the serious fiscal concerns for higher education in Tennessee are those pertinent to state appropriations for student funding. Since 1995, state appropriations per full-time student have increased in Georgia by $1,100 per student. In Mississippi, the increase was $669 per student and in Arkansas, it was $167. In Alabama, the state appropriation per full-time student decreased to a minus $900. In Tennessee, which recorded the largest decline, the state appropriations for full-time students fell to minus $1,303. Or to put it another way, we are dead last among the states in the region in our state support of full-time students. Viewed differently, state funding in 2000 for each full-time student at the University of Georgia was $10,326 per student; at the University of North Carolina, it was $9,703; at the University of South Florida, it was $8,234 and at The University of Memphis, it was $5,696.

When you are asked, you can respond, that since the state appropriations can not provide for our students, we had to raise tuition by 15%. We provided our students with this information so that they would understand that we had to raise tuition to hold on to any level of quality. Sixty-nine percent of our students work. An increase in tuition is not easy for them to manage, and it is important for students to understand why it was necessary.

The faculty, staff, administrators, and I remain committed to higher education. We will do everything within our power to see that your sons, your daughters, and your employees get the education they need to prosper in the 21st century. But we need your help to make a difference in the quality of education and the quality of life in Memphis.

Narrowing my focus a bit, another issue that I'm sure you are keenly interested in is the status of the Fogelman College of Business and Economics. We remain accredited, but in our accreditation visit in February, 2001, we were put on notice by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), an independent accrediting agency, that the college has some serious weaknesses and its accreditation is in jeopardy unless those shortcomings are solved in time for the next visit in three years. Some of the problems can be solved administratively; business dean John Pepin is already addressing those. Others will require funding and, in light of the lack of state support, we have determined it was necessary to increase fees for upper-level students and graduate students in the business college.

The fee for each hour of course credit for junior and seniors in the college increased by $10 beginning this fall, and the fee for each hour of course credit for graduate students in business will increased by $20. That action was proposed by the University, and it was approved by the Board of Regents. Though we regret having to take that step, it was necessary. However, it is not an unprecedented step. The business colleges at several of our peer institutions already impose such fees, and so do a number of other universities across the country. Among them are the University of Arkansas, the University of South Carolina, Virginia Commonwealth University, Georgia State University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Our business community must have a stellar College of Business and Economics to reach our shared goals. The issues of too few faculty, lack of appropriate technology, curricular improvements, and advising are solvable, but they require additional funds. The Fogelman College of Business and Economics has enjoyed a stellar reputation in the past. It is very unfortunate that we have to have an outside accrediting agency sound the alarm. We are the only accredited College of Business and Economics in the city and we want to remain accredited. Dean Pepin, the faculty and I are committed to resolving these issues, but we will need your financial help and your enthusiastic support. We will become an even better College of Business and Economics for having faced these issues.

After the tuition increase was announced last semester, I talked with students about the increases in tuition and the special fees for the College of Business and Economics. There were some heart-wrenching stories. Many of you have called to ask how you can help. I have a list of at least five suggestions. You may choose to respond as the Assisi Foundation responded. They helped an entire program and all the majors in that program by providing the difference in tuition [Read about the Assisi Foundation grant]. We need other organizations to step forward and provide for other students, whether it is for a single student, a whole program, or a support for your employees who are our students.

One of the themes of my administration is "Invest in People." Here are five concrete ways you can help us to invest in people:

  • If you employ students in your business, provide a scholarship or financial assistance immediately, for this spring to help offset the tuition increases.
  • Make a donation to one of the dean's student assistance fund in the college that interests you. It will be spent immediately by the dean to assist needy working students.
  • If you have the means, endow a faculty position. Endowments grow and we take only 5% from the interest on contributions, but it can enhance a faculty member's salary to help us attract and retain quality faculty.
  • Donate to a special fund that I have established to retain faculty members at the University of Memphis, so that we can match the salaries of the people we want to keep. We must not lose our intellectual capital from this community.
  • Visit with one of the deans or development directors here, or call me, and let us tell you about special students or special projects that might interest you.

If you want to do something for our students, write your name and telephone number on the index card at your place and I will call you. Today is the day that we must show the students and faculty at the University of Memphis that the we believe that intellectual capital matters for our future.

While the situation is dire, I couldn't leave here today without also telling you about many of the great things the University of Memphis has accomplished in spite of these tremendous challenges. As we move forward, there are many success stories to build upon. Some of these you may know and some of them you may not. For instance:

  • A number of our programs have gained national recognition for their excellence. Among them are our graduate program in audiology, which US News & World Report ranks 9th out of 50 such programs, and our speech pathology program, which US News ranks 10th out of 118.
  • Graduates of the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law who take the state bar exam consistently have a very high pass rate; the pass rate of the most recent class to take the bar was 92 percent. We have alumni practicing in all 50 states.
  • The bachelor's degree in nursing program at The University of Memphis is the second largest in the state, and since 1996 U of M nursing graduates' pass rate for the state boards has been over 99 percent.
  • The only collection of Egyptian and African art on permanent exhibit at a public university in the Mid-South is at The University of Memphis Art Museum; and our Institute of Egyptian Art and Archeology is known world-wide for its value to researchers in that field.
  • We have 25 Chairs of Excellence, more than any other university in Tennessee. These are endowed professorships that are filled by nationally and internationally respected teachers and researchers.
  • Five Centers of Excellence at the University focus on scholarship and research in applied psychology, earthquakes, communication impairments, educational policy, and Egyptian art and archaeology.

According to a recent study from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at The University of Memphis, the contributions that higher education brings to a state are quite clear:

  • Five-fold increases in the standard of living for college graduates compared to citizens without a college degree.
  • A nearly four-fold increase in state taxes paid by an individual with a college degree.

The University provides the fuel - the educated labor force - that is essential to our economic growth and prosperity.

As we speak, the University faculty and staff are in the process of educating the next generation of community leaders, engineers, attorneys, performing artists, marketing professionals, business executives, health and education professionals, journalists, research scientists, and many more educated citizens.

Your future and ours are one. We must work together to create world-class educational opportunities for people who attend the University of Memphis.

The challenges are great, but so are the opportunities. Without a strong commitment to higher education, Tennessee will remain dead last. We simply cannot allow that to happen.

When a person thinks of the city of Memphis, we want them to also think of the University of Memphis. We do not want them to think...dead last in higher education.

Great cities and great universities are linked. Just think of any noteworthy city in the nation, and you automatically think of an outstanding university in that city. New York - Columbia. Los Angeles - UCLA. Atlanta - Georgia Tech. Nashville - Vanderbilt.

If I leave you with one thought, let it be this - Great universities equal great cities. These academic leaders at The University of Memphis and I will help you make this city a great city, if you will help us make the University of Memphis a great university. I need...we need... your help, to tell our success stories and to build our future together.

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