Chancellor James Limbaugh met with faculty and staff of Montana State University-Northern Tuesday to address their concerns, give good news and explain the current status of the university at an open forum Tuesday.
"I have good news about enrollment," Limbaugh said. Out of the six institutions in the university district, MSU-N and Bozeman were the only two who have increased enrollment rates from last year.
Though enrollment is up at MSU-N, the number of incoming freshman is identical to last year's numbers, Limbaugh said. This means the retention rates for first and second-year students has risen.
"We increased our ability to retain students," Limbaugh said.
Limbaugh also gave some statistics on the make-up of MSU-N students.
Around 77 percent of MSU-N students are Anglo-American and 11 percent of students are Native American, which is a drop in percentage from last year.
The average age of Native Americans attending MSU-N is 26-28.
"I fell the university has an important role in education Native Americans," Limbaugh said.
The ratio of female to male students is pretty even, Limbaugh said.
Limbaugh added 74 percent of students were on financial aid and 34 percent of students reported they are first-generation students.
He added that in 2001, the average age for an MSU-N student was 28. Now, it is 25.
"We are moving toward traditional, college-age students," Limbaugh said.
Limbaugh also announced that a museum is to be built at the Vande Bogart Library. The Hagener collection, which is currently housed at the Hagener Science Center, will be moved to the library once the construction, planned to start December, is finished.
"It'll be outside the conference room so people can really enjoy our collection," Vicki Gist, the library director said. "It'll be an area you can properly display the Indian artifacts."
The collection is currently not being properly cared for in a way a museum would offer. Factors such as lighting and maintaining the right humidity come into play when preserving artifacts, especially textiles.
The collection has been housed in Hagener Science Center since 1968. Aaniiih Nakoda College has donated archival storage boxes to MSU-N, which amounted to around $8,000-worth of supplies to start the museum.
Limbaugh also spoke of the We Love Northern Ball. The ball will be "barn dance style," and donations at the ball can be put toward the museum or scholarships. There will not be an auction this year. Norman's Ranch and Sportswear will give 15 percent of the proceeds of any sale to someone who tells them they are shopping for the ball to MSU-N scholarships and the museum.
Limbaugh went on to discuss some areas of concern to the faculty and staff.
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities put together requirements in which every seven years, MSU-N has to "write a book about itself," Limbaugh said.
"We have been able to prove to creditors that we are stable," Limbaugh said.
The two main things that happen to a university when it loses its accreditation is that it loses funding and students cannot transfer their course credits to an accredited university from an unaccredited one.
Limbaugh said administration will compare the self-study of the university to the commission regulations to see where the university falls behind and where it meets guidelines and rules set by the NWCCU.
In order for the university to stay afloat, MSU-N must follow institutional accreditation regulations, Complete College Montana regulations and focus on performance-based funding.
"All these things are going to affect the way we measure ourselves," Limbaugh said.
With performance-based funding, the college must prove that it is earning the money it needs to operate. The college completion rates come into play with this style of funding, and the completion rates are not great at MSU-N, Limbaugh said, but the rise in retention rates may play a significant role.
"We need to continue to be able to retain students," Limbaugh said.
Concerns about the size of MSU-N resulting in a lack of funding from this system prompted Limbaugh to explain this was not a factor.
"Size and complexity will not trump actual performance," Limbaugh said.
The main concern Limbaugh addressed from the most recent report on the university included giving the university faculty "competitive, market-based salaries."
Trygve "Spike" Magelssen and Darlene Sellers, both professors at MSU-N, voiced their concerns on the lack of raises staff have seen.
"I could walk in with a basket of money and not be able to give you a penny," Limbaugh said to Magelssen. Limbaugh said this is because the contract the faculty have, he is unable to take any real steps toward acquiring raises for the faculty and that it is up to them to negotiate for them.
"It is not up to faculty," Sellers said. "It's a David and Goliath situation."
"I do not have the authority to go past your contracts," Limbaugh said. "I can advocate, yes, and I have."
Limbaugh said his number-one priority was raising salaries, and if they were not raised to competitive levels, it could "strangle" the university, but there was ultimately nothing he could do about it. The faculty will have to adjust its criteria, he added.
"If all the power rested with (the faculty), we would all have good raises," Sellers said after the open forum.
The stabilization of Donaldson Hall is almost finished and the next step in the process of its revitalization is bringing in a specialist to measure the needs of the programs at MSU-N to find out what to do with the added space, Limbaugh said.
He also commended the football, basketball, softball and wrestling teams for being nationally ranked this year and said he is planning an all-sports banquet on March 19 to thank them.
"We'll be able to celebrate these teams," Limbaugh said. "They bring national recognition to MSU-N."