Mearns talks with students about strategic plan in open forum

“Our Future Graduates” sponsored by the Strategic Planning Committee proposed changes at Tuesday’s forum which will affect all students. President Geoffrey Mearns brought discussion of NKU housing, campus involvement, retention and graduation, classes, and safety.

A group of 20-30 students told the dean, students, and staff of the Strategic Planning committee what needs change at NKU and what they like. The group seemed interested not just in the free pizza, but having their voices heard.

Housing concerns led to debate over student involvement and organizations.

Mearns said SGA planned more residential activities on the weekends but saw low attendance.

Junior Katie Credland said, “It’s cheaper to go home and eat on the weekends than stay in the dorms.”

Other students said people would like to stay on the weekends but “it’s so dead,” Credland said.

With “not much outside of campus,” Residential Assistant Brenden Schrenk believes weekend activities are important.

Credland and other participants suggested moving events and club meetings to afternoon times, closer to the times commuters get out of class.

Activities are important for keeping students on campus but other participants such as junior Brandi Cunningham mentioned, “There’s a plethora for me to do. Maybe I’m over-involved but there’s way too much for me to do.”

Improving inter-organizational relations was also planned during the meeting to ensure more students stay on campus and more students dorm.

Housing was a second topic brought up during the meeting.

NKU keeps housing occupancy up 95 percent or like its occupancy fall semester 2012.

“Keeping occupancy up keeps housing costs and tuition down,” Mearns said. This spring semester, occupancy lowered below 95 percent.

While NKU plans renovations and introducing more students, it remains a small campus. 67 percent of students are from Kentucky with 632 international students currently.

Proximity was one reason students were drawn to NKU during the click-in poll. Other deciding factors for undergraduates and some graduate students were safety, diversity, cost and flexibility, especially for on-campus residents.

Students who are close to campus sometimes live in dorms but moving off-campus puts occupancy down in the spring.

Many students transfer to other universities. NKU has low retention rates when compared to the university and committee’s goal of 70-80 percent enrollment. Only 67 percent of first-time students stay a year later. Dropout rates are currently 33 percent. Financial obligations work into these numbers despite the tuition cost.

Graduation rates are less than the state average but more progress was shown in graduation than student retention rates, Mearns said. Since a 56 percent Pell grant increase, student eligibility broadened.

However, graduation and retention figures do not take account of transfer students. The forum continued to discuss reasons students leave campus and stay on campus such as classes.

A short question-answer segment focused on opinions of online classes.

Cunningham said she learns more in traditional classroom settings while another participant mentioned online glitches and the difficulty remembering deadlines.

Online classes remain optional but some classes are only offered online. A student with disability services recognized the schedule flexibility in online courses and fewer distractions accompanied by them.

Online courses compliment proximity and flexibility for some but security is another deciding factor. Safety is a deciding factor to one student who chose NKU over UC. Safety is sometimes based upon perception.

A student told the committee that seeing patrols is comforting but it “did not portray a safe campus.” Safety involves experience but also “spoken liability,” Mearns summarized.

Katie Cox, student member of strategic planning committee, said she had friends who went to UC Clermont and they portrayed NKU as a “safe campus.”

The steps to moving NKU to 2018 required housing, organizational, and management amends.

To complete these amends, the panel suggested new student orientation reform.

One student suggested proper orientation must be based on steps rather general principles while orientation leaders and presenters be “frank and honest.”