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WSU Vancouver moves forward into 2017

The fall 2016 semester finished with a Campus Conversation with Chancellor Mel Netzhammer. At the event, students had the opportunity to meet with Netzhammer and discuss topics of importance to the campus community. The Dec. 8 conversation covered a wide range of topics such as Washington State University Vancouver’s Strategic Plan for on-site housing, budget and tuition considerations, the discontinuation of WSU Vancouver’s master of business administration program and other changes to campus.

Improvements

General improvements to the capabilities and community of WSU Vancouver were discussed at the event. According to Netzhammer, WSU Vancouver is seeking to become less Pullman-centric, and is currently working with university President Kirk Schulz to achieve this goal. To this end, the university plans to hire a vice president for marketing to serve the system and specifically the Vancouver campus.

Bus Routes

The conversation also discussed bus service to campus. Recent changes moved the campus bus stop to 29th Ave. and created concerns among bus users regarding lighting of the new stop and the path to campus, accessibility issues and making sure proper legal code was followed. In the future WSU Vancouver may have a shuttle bus to Salmon Creek so that students do not have to work around what the city plans. These plans may begin to be implemented next summer, but the exact details have yet to be finalized.

Tuition

At the campus conversation, students expressed some concern that tuition will increase. However, Netzhammer said that no discussion has been initiated about it yet. Rates will not be finalized until after the legislative session when the budgets are set.

Housing

Netzhammer said that providing on site housing is an important issue as some students are facing homelessness. On site housing would also enhance students’ college experience.

The Tri-Cities campus recently worked out a deal with a local apartment complex to master and lease out apartments to their students. Although this approach works well for Tri-Cities, Netzhammer stated that this is not the approach that WSU Vancouver plans to take.

Masterplan architects were asked to cite locations on campus where residence halls and a student union building could be placed, however they have not yet given price quotes.

The university is still exploring other housing possibilities in order to ensure the best solution regarding pricing and location for students. President Schulz has expressed his support for providing housing on the Vancouver campus and is ready to support the project as soon as it is put into action, according to Netzhammer.

Master of Business Administration Program

The campus conversation also covered the discontinuation of the WSU Vancouver MBA program. As of fall 2017, the WSU Vancouver MBA program will no longer be offered to students. However, a face-to-face program will still be offered at WSU Tri-Cities. Other options include the MBA Online and the Executive MBA Online programs.

According to Netzhammer, this change was due to the fact that the MBA program only allowed students to enroll in graduate coursework if they had first undergone undergraduate coursework, meaning that the program was not fit for executives who did not possess an undergraduate degree. Instead, such students had to enroll in the executive online program.

“The department came together and decided that the energy of department, the efforts of the department were better focused elsewhere than in trying to either change the MBA program into something that [is] readily available from another institution, including WSU, or to try to sustain the program that is unique within WSU right now, but not the program that was garnering interest,” said Netzhammer.

Various research and trends showed that it would not hurt the school’s reputation to discontinue the program. The online MBA program currently has over 300 students and the online executive MBA program has 85 students. Four years ago, it was rated as the number one graduate MBA program. Therefore WSU will focus its efforts to continue improving the online program and equip students with the knowledge they need to be successful, said Netzhammer.

Graduate Education

Netzhammer also discussed graduate education. The graduate education program at WSU Vancouver is currently not a revenue generator but rather a cost center. Although the school would like to expand the graduate program there is not a critical mass of paying undergraduate students to financially allow for this. “The scale is the issue, not the commitment to doing it,” said Netzhammer.

WSU Vancouver recently approved four doctoral students for tuition and waivers. Each time a graduate student is hired, WSU is required to pay them and for their tuition. Moving in the direction where more graduate students pay for their education, as is done in the MBA, nursing and education programs, would help lessen the financial burden on the university. Despite these expenses, a return on investment also needs to be taken into consideration. When graduate students do well, they are given grants which in turn provide funds to pay future graduate students for their work.

Commitments and Budget Considerations

The WSU Vancouver campus is committed to small classroom sizes to provide for a more personalized education for each student, said Netzhammer. While Pullman considers a large class section to consist of 500 students, Vancouver considers a large class section to be 50 students. “We are blessed that we are not Pullman,” said Netzhammer in regards to the size of classes at WSU Vancouver.

Vancouver’s adjunct rate is less than half that of the national average. This commitment to small classes and full-time instructors is expensive, however. If the campus hired as many adjunct instructors as the national average suggests, it could save a substantial amount of money and put it towards research. However, one of the core values of the Vancouver campus is having full-time instructors so the money will need to be allocated from a different area, said Netzhammer.

Other expenses that WSU is currently facing include the electronic security implemented after recent online data intrusion. The $35 million one-time expense plus $5-7 million annual operating costs to maintain the system have not yet been paid for and figure prominently in determining how to spend additional revenue for next year, according to Netzhammer.

WSU is determined to fund its strategic plan, and for the first two years of the plan it has been funded by current assets. After the second year, there will be no funding allocated for this plan. Netzhammer said that consequently, budget considerations are partially concerned with setting money aside to fund the upcoming years.

“For better or worse, students are money,” said Netzhammer. There has been a slight decrease in first year students, a slight increase in transfer students and the largest growth was seen in the retention of students. Ultimately the biggest way to increase funding is through enrollment, said Netzhammer.

While university-wide budgets may reflect concerning figures, Netzhammer said that WSU Vancouver has been financially healthy since it was founded, so it has been protected from having to make difficult budgetary choices. Going forward, the emphasis on campus budgets is to evaluate its core goals and allocate money to items of higher value. Netzhammer said that future meetings will be held to discuss and determine such matters.

Campus Conversation with Chancellor Mel Netzhammer started in 2012. These gatherings are an opportunity to take the pulse of the student community and answer questions that students may have. The Campus Conversations take place at the beginning and end of the semester. To present your own questions, stay updated on new developments and for an opportunity to make a difference, attend future Campus Conversations each semester.

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