Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Kegel focuses on retention, recruitment in State Of The University address


Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Greg Kegel touched on the impact of state cuts to higher education, Northern's efforts to increase recruitment and retention and the long-awaited completion of the new Diesel Technology Center in his State of the University Address Wednesday.

People packed into Hensler Auditorium in Northern's Applied Technology Center to hear the 45-minute speech from Kegel about the current status of the University and his plans for it moving forward.

The last year, Kegel said, has been challenging, after a summer plagued by drought and a historically bad wildfire season, record-breaking snowfall and cuts in funding enacted by the state Legislature to the Montana State University system.

"We had a tough year, the state has, the Hi-Line has," he said.

Last year, because the state revenues came in lower than expected and because of the bad wildfire season, the Montana Legislature enacted across-the-board spending cuts in its 2018-2019 biennium budget.

Kegel said the cuts led to a 10 percent cut in state funding to Montana's university system during the regular legislative session and an additional one and a half percent during a special legislative session last fall.

The state, Kegel said, provides funding to the university system, which in turn divides the funding up between campuses.

In all, he said. Northern received about $1 million less in state funding as a result of the cuts. Because of the cuts, Northern had to raise its tuition and fees by 25 percent for lower division students and 5.7 percent for higher division students.

Northern receives four main sources of financing, Kegel said, state funding, tuition, student fees and private contributions.

He said the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education determines how much money Northern gets from the state as a result of the number of full-time equivalent students or FTEs, determined by the number of credits taken at a university divided by 15.

The number of FTEs, fell from 996.55 last fall to 930 this spring at Northern, the lowest of any spring since 2011.

Overall student headcount also fell for the spring 2018 semester at 1,119 students, compared to 1,154 during the fall 2017 semester and 1,182 last spring.

Kegel said the drop in FTE's is concerning because that is the formula used to determine how much state funding Northern receives. Buildings such as the dorms also depend on money from auxiliary funds for their upkeep and improvements.

"So you take the budget reduction we got from the state and the loss of revenue we got from the FTE ... that becomes hard for us to overcome," he said. "So we are concerned about getting those numbers back up."

Kegel, who said he has been at Northern since the 1970s, said the drop is part of a trend at Northern, exacerbated in part by a shrinking population of people in area communities.

Area schools, he said, are about half as big as they used to be, and that is the population Northern has traditionally catered to.

"That's our pool of students that we have mainly draw from," he said. "This has always been kind of a regional school."

Despite what people think, he said, Northern students don't all come from in and around Havre.

Kegel said that when he became chancellor four years ago, he decided to "cast a wider net" and recruit students from outside the area.

Last year, administrators from Montana State University in Bozeman called him and asked where Northern' s students came from.

After an analysis was done, he said, it was found that, per-capita, Northern is getting more students from outside the state than Montana State University in Bozeman does.

MSU President Waded Cruzado, he said, later encouraged him to market outside the state.

A marketing strategy, he said, has been put together to ramp up recruitment, to brand Northern through an increased presence on Facebook, redesigns of Northern's website and a series of short YouTube videos where students tout the benefits of Northern and how it has helped them.

Northern, Kegel said, also has to work to retain students. Northern's retention rate has long been frozen at 58 percent.

If Northern is able to raise its retention rate to 65 percent much of its financial woes would be gone and more money could be available to improve and maintain the campus.

Kegel said there are multiple reasons why students decide to leave college, but he believes that part of it is that new students have trouble navigating the system.

Changes, he said, are being made with more intrusive advising, where advisors are actively seeking out new students within the first weeks of a semester to make sure they are getting what they need and improve customer service on campus.

To improve retention, recruitment and get Northern where it needs to go, Kegel said, he has put together a strategic advancement team that has come up with nine initiatives to improve campus life. The team has then been broken up into charge groups to look at the feasibility, benefits and downsides of each proposal.

Initiatives include increasing corporate partnerships and cooperative opportunities for students, the formation of an American Indian Advisory Council with representatives from the Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, Rocky Boy's and Blackfeet Indian reservations, who can come up with ways to help retain American Indian students.

Other initiatives, he said, include making improvements to dorms, as well as the construction of a facility for an equine program and a new sports complex, work at Northern's Advanced Fuels Center and undergraduate research in biology and health promotions.

At a meeting of one of the charge groups, Kegel said, a man came forward and offered to provide the land needed for an equine facility, while another has said he will donate money to the effort.

When the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education meets in March in Dillion, Kegel said he will propose that Northern offer a minor in equine studies.

"So you are going to see something happen with a complex and a pavilion," he said.

Kegel will also seek permission from the Regents to move forward with sports complex. The project, he said, has been worked on conceptually for two years and he has convinced the Northern Alumni Foundation to free up some money to move ahead with the project.

Drawings have been made of what the complex will look like, and a charge group has looked at the pros and cons of building it.

Kegel said that he had Maura Gatch, admissions director at Northern, looked at seven universities of comparable size to Northern that built sports complexes, stadiums and or expanded existing sports facilities to find out how they affected retention and recruitment.

"And in every one of those cases enrollment and retention went up and some of them substantially went up," Kegel said.

He said that he has received the blessing of the Alumni Foundation, and Crezado.

The first phase of the project, he said, will include installing drainage, artificial turf and a scoreboard and can be completed by this coming fall.

Though he agrees that there are other needs on campus, Kegel said donors give to Northern for different projects, and he has already received some commitments from donors for the complex.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

The complex, he said, will bring in more students and with that Northern can get enough money to get a loan to make improvements to the dorms and pay back the loan with student fees.

One initiative that is nearing completion is Northern's long-awaited Diesel Technology Center. The new building will house Northern's world class diesel program.

Kegel said contractors should hand over the keys to the building next week. During spring break, equipment will be moved into the building and the official grand opening will take place Wednesday May 23.

The project, he said, is not only a building but has also involved making improvements to about one-fourth of the campus such as new walkaways. an outside common area and new lighting.


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