University President Sue Thomas talks state of Truman

Truman State University President Sue Thomas delivered the annual State of the University address Tuesday to talk about the University’s need to focus on reversing current trends and how to accomplish that through the strategic plan. 

Thomas began the speech by stating that Truman needs to see its current position clearly — that is, getting an accurate idea of where it’s at currently and what it’s missing. She presented the expected University budget changes from last year, its legislative focuses that could impact the budget, wage changes and how the budget settled this fiscal year. 

While state appropriation and student tuition and fees increased, faculty insurance costs stayed the same and the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System increased in cost. 

Despite an increase in tuition, Thomas explained that there wasn’t extra money because enrollment has been steadily decreasing to its current full time enrollment number of 4,507 students. This, along with another increase in MOSERS costs, creates a decrease of about $3 million in the operating budget for the fiscal year 2021.

Thomas pointed to a prediction that estimated college enrollment in Missouri would drop by 2-7%, but Truman experienced an enrollment decrease of 19.7% from where it should be in 2019. Retention, however, is steady for the first time in five years.

Thomas said that other factors in addition to demographic shifts are to blame for Truman’s decreasing enrollment. While it is disappointing that enrollment continues to decrease, Thomas said there is still opportunity to find ways to turn that trend around.

With a variety of goals and metrics laid out in the strategic plan that is currently in development, Thomas said the University community needs to prioritize those over anything else. Truman, Thomas said, needs to refocus to become an outcome based institution, cutting the activities that don’t contribute or support the University’s goals.

One of the areas the University will be concentrating on is its liberal arts mission.

“We need to start saying what we do is exactly what the world needs,” Thomas said. “Because the research is very clear it is exactly what the world needs. So being externally focused allows us to make that case. We need to have kind of a forward and future orientation rather than the status quo or the past.”

Thomas said the University needs to determine who it is and what it means to be a liberal arts institution in 2020 and beyond. She said that will help the University community stay energized and engaged in promoting that to the rest of the world.

The strategic plan currently being developed — which should be drafted by the end of March — is expected to help Truman define the goals and areas it needs to focus on. These areas include enrollment, campus climate, operation effectiveness, graduation rates, academic performance, next destination rates, employer satisfaction and alumni satisfaction. Thomas said this strategic plan is different because it is designed to have metrics or measurements of how well the University is achieving its goals in each area built in.

“A lot of times people think, ‘Well, if you stay limited you’re letting lots of things go away. There are lots of valuable things that you then just don’t focus on,’” Thomas said. “But for us, I think the only way we get to where we need to be is we need to concentrate. We need to focus on what we need to do. That strengthens everything that’s associated with it.”

Thomas concluded the address by talking about developments with the rebranding campaign, which is slated to be announced March 4.