University President Troy Paino delivered the State of the University address Tuesday, urging Truman State’s faculty to assist with a series of changes Paino deemed necessary for the University to avoid falling into debt and falling behind other institutions.
Paino presented five action items to be implemented during the next three years. The first item aims to assimilate students into the liberal arts and sciences ideals earlier during their education at Truman via new seminar courses offered to freshmen and sophomores. Other items would use technology to provide students with links between different courses across academic disciplines and aim to set apart Truman’s LAS components from the curricula of other schools. Paino said he also wants to use technology to recapture credits lost to other universities through hybrid classes and dual-credit programs. He said the University also will begin requiring students to take part in a “high-impact” learning experience such as an internship or study abroad program.
At the beginning of his address, Paino said it was important the University move more forcefully with these actions. He spoke first about the challenges facing the University. Paino said credit hours taken have decreased by about 6,000 hours compared to 2009 and applications have decreased by about a total of 600 during the same time frame. He said these decreases stem from issues such as Truman’s location, a decline in students majoring in traditional liberal arts programs and a greater emphasis nationally for professional or pre-professional programs.
Paino said he believes one big issue is Truman has lost its distinctiveness as a university. He said every other school, regardless of size, can claim to offer the same experience Truman is offering, but in urban areas that are attractive to students and without the reputation of intense academic rigor Truman is known for. Paino said Truman’s curriculum doesn’t stand apart from other schools.
Paino said more students are getting credits elsewhere and Truman currently does not have the means to avoid losing these students to other institutions. He said this will be detrimental to Truman unless changes are made.
“We either adapt, figure it out and thrive in this new environment or we’re going to continue to be left behind,” Paino said.
Paino said he and Dave Rector, vice president for administration, finance and planning, worked together to prepare a five-year budget projection based on a variety of assumptions. Paino said unless significant changes take place with Truman’s mission, core state funding or retention and graduation rates among other factors, the result will be a debt of $3 million.
Paino spoke briefly about the plus-minus grading system Truman’s Student Government and Faculty Senate have discussed during the past few semesters. Paino said continued focus on this point of contention is detrimental to the University, but he offered no insight about whether the grading system will be implemented or not.
“Our single-minded focus on grades the last two years has been contrary in the approach to the intrinsic value of education that we offer to our students,” Paino said. “It has done us harm obsessing over this and talking about it for two years.”
Paino said the liberal arts and sciences should serve to accomplish three goals — provide an essential value, help students cultivate a practical intellect and develop students’ character. He said Truman’s staff is here to enhance their students’ understanding and moral character. Paino said all of these elements should combine to help students form a commitment to something other than themselves and discern a vocation that gives their life purpose.
“I think a lot of our students get a lot of this stuff here, but it’s mostly by osmosis,” Paino said. “It’s not intentional. What would separate us as an institution, especially in the public sector, is if we took these [goals] seriously … we don’t do a lot of that, but that’s what liberal arts schools do. That’s what makes them different.”
After his speech, Paino took questions from the audience and addressed some additional points not covered in his speech. He said after the action items he spoke about are implemented, the University might want to look at changing to a four-course model. Paino said this would allow students to spend more time on only four classes per semester, but he said the point would be to maintain the academic rigor that students currently encounter.
Paino said he would avoid approaching anything from a direction the Board of Governors does not agree with. He said he hopes his ideas for change energize Truman’s staff and show them what is possible.