By: Connor Mahon
CSU 2.0, a five-year plan for the future of the university, was unveiled via Facebook Live on March 26. Today, we are inspecting the fourth of four themes that make up the ambitious plan, to unpack what it all means for you, the student. The theme, “Build Financial Strength/Strengthen Campus Community,” consists of eight priorities, which build upon the revenue growth from the planned increase of students, improved retention rates, and new research funds.
Priority 1: Reduce Administrative Expenditures Across the University by $2 Million Annually
From a student perspective, reducing costs by starting with the administration is much preferred to increases in tuition or budget cuts for campus services and programs. The university plans to “conduct a full asset review to determine which structures/operations could benefit from a different operating modality.”
In the live presentation, the goal was stated as seeking to “consolidate services and processes.” This has the potential to be good or bad for students, depending on how it plays out. Consolidation and different operating modalities can make services more accessible and clear for students. It also has the potential to change specialized staff positions into generalist positions as offices are consolidated, resulting in staff less qualified to help with specific problems.
Priority 2: Restructure Our Athletics Programs
While this priority was absent from the Facebook Live announcement, the document lays out a plan for both reducing costs and expanding sports programs. With unexpected success at the NCAA tournament historically resulting in increased applications for many universities, investments in athletics can be a strategic way to support enrollment growth, even if the sports programs themselves do not turn a profit. CSU’s recent successes in basketball may make this a viable strategy for the university to pursue. Specific goals to “enhance the student experience” and “introduce additional sports programs and sponsored student activities” make it seem like engaging the current student body is a part of the plans as well.
The report also states that a potential $1.5 million in savings is possible through “a variety of administrative adjustments, and some reductions in athletic scholarships.” Combined with enhancements in “external and enrollment-based revenue generation,” a restructuring of athletics is a promising venture that should benefit most students, excluding the student-athletes facing scholarship reductions.
Priority 3: Reduce Academic Unit Expenditures by $1 Million Annually
Independent of the $2 million in savings stated in Priority 1, the realignment of colleges and its accompanying reduction in the number of deans, associate deans, and department chairs were initially projected to reduce administrative costs by $1.6 – $2.5 million. It is clarified here that a more realistic goal is $500,000. An additional $500,000 will be saved through a review of academic programs, for a total of $1 million in annual savings.
This review will include “enforcing current policy on enrollment minima, reducing the number of general education classes that have low enrollments, and reducing the number of multiple section classes.” If implemented, these changes may result in less flexibility when scheduling general education requirements, which could be an issue for students scheduling classes around work or other responsibilities. This will hopefully be mitigated by the curriculum review (Theme 2, Priority 7), which seeks to review general education requirements and streamline degree paths.
Priority 4: Remake our Internal Financial Distribution Model
The internal financial distribution model refers to how available resources are allocated within the university. Described by President Sands as “one of the more ambitious pieces of our plan,” this priority includes revising the current model to incentivize growth for vice presidents and deans in their respective areas. “We reward them for growing [programs] in a way that advances our collective goals.” This will allow expanding programs to access more resources to “invest in faculty and staff.”
This will take place under the guidance of the university’s Chief Financial Officer, a position previously held by Michael Biehl, who left the position in December 2020 according to his LinkedIn. The CSU website has not been updated to reflect Biehl’s departure or a new CFO.
Priority 5: Invest Savings from Sustainability Measures to Strengthen Campus Community
While not adding anything new, this priority reaffirms two things. First, that the purpose of cost-saving measures is to invest in programs and services, and second, that they seek to improve faculty and staff salaries. While not the focus of these articles, staff members do have some cause for concern about the security of their jobs following plans to consolidate, review, and restructure offices across campus. This goal and the following seem targeted at reassuring them.
Priority 6: Foster Opportunities for Professional Growth for CSU Staff
Starting small scale with a proposed pilot project in only one department, this priority “recommends creating partnerships with other educational and training organizations to supplement CSU’s own capacities” for creating opportunities for professional growth of CSU staff. This is in part an attempt to “retain talent,” something that is definitely needed based on a recent wave of departures from administrative and other positions, which were sometimes held for only one year or less.
Priority 7: Develop New Campus Master Plan
Following the unveiling of artistic renderings depicting an updated Rhodes Tower, the new campus master plan has been the topic of much discussion between students. The report states, “Our goal is to create the post-pandemic urban campus of the future, a fully integrated, city-connected campus experience to include expanded residential facilities, public-private partner connection spaces, and additional research labs.”
Regarding the reimagined Rhodes Tower, Sands said, “Our tower is an iconic tower, from the late ‘60s, and we’re going to look at opportunities to create the new CSU and transform our city landscape.” Sands is correct to call Rhodes iconic. It is the tallest academic building in the state and adds CSU to our city’s skyline. He is also right to propose it is in need of an update. Flaws in its initial design and asbestos in the fireproofing, insulation and more have contributed to numerous issues with the building throughout the past decades. In 2009, renovation estimates were put at $37 million.
As noted by Sands in the presentation, one purpose of these buildings is to attract students, and newer facilities will increase enrollment and improve public perception of the university. This is especially true of Rhodes Tower, which acts as a billboard for CSU to those entering the city.
Sands also made it clear that there were no concrete plans. “This is an aspirational slide; I wanted to give you some sense of where transformation could happen.” In addition to Rhodes Tower, two more renderings on the slide showed outdoor seating and a Starbucks in front of the student center, and what looks to be indoor renovations to the student center, possibly at the current location of Chili’s.
It is possible that new construction projects could also come at the cost of neglecting existing buildings. Many areas on campus, not just Rhodes Tower, are due for a refresh. Evidence against this concern is the recent renovations to the fourth floor of Berkman Hall, which will hopefully continue in the coming years. Time will tell about the priorities of the new campus master plan, and with the large price tag attached, it is up for debate on whether this would be a worthwhile investment.
While the Rhodes Tower renderings were purely speculative, there may be one project closer to reality. “We already have one capital infrastructure project that’s been approved…that’s going to create some new labs and the ability to advance our existing research,” Sands said.
Unfortunately, the Livestream froze during the slide featuring this new building, and we could not learn any more about it. Based on the image, the building will be located in the Science Courtyard, filling space between Berkman Hall and the Science Building (SI), and replacing or extending the Science & Research Center (SR).
Priority 8: Capital Campaign
Following one of the most costly measures of the whole plan, and finishing out the document is a capital campaign or a targeted fundraising effort. This priority is given the most specific timeline of anything in the document, taking place during the 2023-2025 period. Given this, we can assume that most of the other changes requiring funds will not be happening until that time frame as well. Soon-to-be graduates can likely expect alumni donation campaigns targeted at them.
CSU 2.0 is a massive undertaking. Regardless of if it is realistic, it certainly projects a bright vision for the future of the university, and for its students. For a plan developed in consultation with only 6 total students across all five task forces, the students do seem to come out on top. The absence of tuition increases, program cuts, or decreases in student support funding all run opposite to what one might have expected given other universities’ response to their COVID-19 budget crises. Additionally, expanded financial aid, the Co-Op Promise, and more make it clear that money is headed to the right places as far as students are concerned. The only downside: most current students won’t be around to see these changes.