Berkman discusses student retention at SGA meeting

By Anna Toth

University President Ronald M. Berkman spoke about the university’s growth and development at the most recent Student Government Association (SGA) senate meeting.

He started his speech by thanking SGA for their help with getting feedback from three different areas of the campus community and presenting it at the Board of Trustees meeting that morning.

“[SGA] not only provided a vision of how we would enhance the student experience, but also some real tangible methods of how we might be able to do that,” Berkman said.

Berkman went on to describe some of the insights that he gained from the meeting and addressed them individually. Some of the feedback he got was how difficult it is to get support from student services, both as a student and as part of an organization.

While he sympathized with the difficulties, Berkman commented that it was an unintentional exercise in dealing with the real world that helped students succeed – but they did need to do better.

“It is in some ways what you’re going to have to face when you get into other organizations,” Berkman said. “That isn’t to deny the fact that I think we could do better.”

Berkman went on to explain that he thinks responsibilities of a university have gone above and beyond just giving them a diploma, despite what faculty members might think. He describes how they’ve gone above and beyond just giving students a diploma in the last nine years.

His idea of going above and beyond is giving students experiences outside of the university and utilizing outside resources within the city of Cleveland.

“Our responsibilities as a university are no longer simply to give a student a diploma, having them walk across the stage and wish them Godspeed as they leave,” Berkman said. “But our goal has to be to prepare students for a bridge, to create a career path, to create an awareness and more information that will help you make choices.”

While Berkman prides what the university has done so far in offering student services, Cleveland State was forced to look at the cost of providing such services.

When Attorney General Mike DeWine ran an audit on the university creating the Path to 2020 program, the university was forced to either decrease spending or increase income wherever they could. The audit inspired not only the semi-privatization of parking but the increase in tuition for the next freshman class.

Berkman addressed the cost issues with funding the university and also pointed it towards the lack of funding from the state.

“Fifteen years ago, the state provided 48 percent of the operating budget for universities,” Berkman said. “Today, the state provides Cleveland State with 23 percent.”

Despite needing to raise the tuition, Cleveland State is still making strides to keep education affordable. Tuition will increase with each incoming freshman class, but that class will pay the same amount over four years.

Berkman also detailed a program where students who dropped out before getting their degree could have all or part of their debt removed if they came back to finish it. The program is called Gone but Not Forgotten, and it addressed around 800 students from the last few years who, while in good academic standing, dropped out after three years for financial reasons.

“We will forgive anyone who owes the university $1000 or less if you come back and register,” Berkman said. “Anyone who owes the university more than $1000 and wants to come back, we’ll set you up with a payment plan over several years.”

However, only about 15 percent of the students who’ve dropped out took up that offer. Berkman admits that it’s hard to come back after you’ve been out of school for a semester or more. While the program is still available, Berkman instead concentrates on keeping students enrolled.

“We’ve done a good job of getting students across the finish line,” Berkman said. “I’d like to get more of them across the finish line.”