The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

What you missed at SGA: Addressing budget deficit and athletic programs

November 1, 2022

Top university officials spoke at this week’s Student Government Association meeting about the $18.7 million deficit and listened to student concerns, an inaugural move for a series of student listening sessions to take place over the coming months. SGA also welcomed a new secretary of public relations and provided suggestions on how to bridge the gap between athletics and the campus community.

The budget deficit and student concerns

In a brief summary of the university’s financial situation, President Ashish Vaidya stated that NKU’s instructional costs have gone up at twice the rate of revenues, which is not financially sustainable.

He also described the factors that contributed to the deficit: competition from other universities and online certificate providers; more students qualifying for financial aid than expected; a higher number of non-degree seeking students who engage with the university online or for short terms.

The president divided the student population into three categories. The first describes traditional, campus accessing undergraduate students who seek a degree. The second includes students who primarily take online classes. The third involves lifelong learners, who only enroll at the university for a short period of time to upskill and progress in their full-time jobs. Following the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of in-person learning, student priorities have shifted to stackable certificates, online learning and flexibility.

“We are losing students in our own backyard, and we’re going to fight that battle and make sure that students will always think of NKU as the first,” the president said. “Our students are getting older, they are more part-time, they are taking more online classes. We need to make sure we meet them where they are.”

He reassured those present that student success will always remain NKU’s priority and that their progression toward a degree will not be compromised. For this reason, NKU has been investing in the First-Year Student Success Hub to provide coordinated care for freshmen, allowing them to access counseling, financial aid, career and recruitment services in one place. If the students do well, Vaidya said, this semester will see the highest retention rate in recent history at over 77%.

Another goal for NKU is to establish Academic Commons: a one-stop for all academic support services, preferably located in the Steely Library. The university hopes to collect student opinions from various groups—including non-traditional groups like online students, veterans and adult learners—in student listening sessions over several months, and will seek out students for a task force to design Academic Commons.

The floor then opened for questions from SGA. Responding to the question of how research funding will be affected, President Vaidya said that the Institute for Health Innovations will continue to provide grants for student and faculty research, while NKU tries to reduce the deficit from $18.7 million down to $10.5 million over three fiscal years.

Regarding the rumor that NKU is going to increase the overall tuition, the president answered that any changes to tuition will be determined during the new budget cycle that begins in January. Adding that tuition increases have been very modest, never going above 3% over the last seven years, he reassured SGA that affordability is a core value for the administration.

According to vice president of Student Affairs Dr. Eddie Howard, the administration is going to develop a financial literacy program to help students understand the cost of attending college according to majors and ensure they do not borrow too much money or for what they do not need.

“College is not like K-12. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege,” Howard said. “We’re giving out merit-based [scholarships] based on your GPA or your ACT score, and there’s a gap between there. We try to help you with that gap, but the only thing that can fill the gap sometimes is to borrow money. I think the best that you can do is invest in yourself.”

Jeremy Alltop, vice president for Finance & Administration and chief financial officer, reaffirmed that the Reposition Plan—as NKU’s plan to reduce spending and increase revenue is called—will not affect currently enrolled students in any capacity. Changes will only be implemented for incoming students, for whom financial aid might be less generous.

The campus community and athletics

In addition to the three administrators, the meeting also featured Athletics Director Christina Roybal as a guest speaker, who sought the Student Senate’s opinions on how to elevate athletic experience for the community and get more people to recognize NKU as a strong Division I program.

Roybal came to NKU in June this year, along with a relatively new athletic staff. Many in the department do not know what NKU athletics looked like prior to the pandemic, she said.

“For the past couple of years our student athletes were living in a bubble. As we’re getting out of the pandemic and coming back, I want to find ways in which we can bridge that gap between our student athletes and our student body,” Roybal said, adding that being a relatively young institution, NKU does not have traditions like a clap, chant or dance that can create hype and excitement at sport games.

Senators Ash Landis and Silverent Balcaitis suggested making the game schedules more visible in areas with a lot of student traffic, such as Norse Commons. Senator Tahlea Harris recommended that student athletes attend more social events and dress in a way that signals them as athletes.

Justice Brayden Young suggested that NKU reach out to local high schools and organize events that promote NKU to future students. Senator Lei Wydman advised that the athletics department should diversify information about a variety of sports, rather than focusing on basketball, to make athletic programs more accommodating for everybody.

Director Roybal spoke about creating a more inclusive atmosphere at games: a kids’ zone, a nursery room for nursing mothers, a sensory room for attendees to step out in before returning to the game. She concluded that she would return to SGA meetings in the future after discussing the suggestions with her staff.

SGA updates

SGA welcomed Grace Copfer, a journalism major and recent transfer student from Ohio State University. After a round of discussion, in which SGA members applauded her experience and enthusiasm, Copfer was accepted as secretary of public relations with no opposition and no abstention.

President Daniel Myers announced that Jaelynn Gentry had stepped down from the position of SGA vice president, leaving the seat vacant. Gentry has been absent at meetings for the last few weeks.

For the Boots to the Ground initiative, senators reported on obstacles that some students have come across on their college journey, including rigid mandatory class attendance, trouble reaching out to advisors and scheduling classes, a mental health office that seems difficult to approach and assignments getting locked before students can email their instructors.

For this week, SGA members would ask the following question: “What is something preventing you from attending sporting events on campus?”

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