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researches management
techniques in information
technology. The university
lured Douglas Perry, a cell
biologist who helped create
the nation’s first entirely
new school of informatics
at Indiana University, to be
founding dean of its own
newCollege of Informatics,
which encompasses
informationmanagement,
communication and
media, computer science,
information technology, and
other fields important to the
kinds of businesses northern
Kentucky is trying to attract.
All of the first 235 graduates
got jobs, with average annual
starting salaries above
$50,000.
Word of this is getting
out. Since 2005, the number
of freshman applicants has
jumped 22 percent in spite of
higher tuition and heightened
entrance requirements, at a school whose previous open-
enrollment policy earned it the nickname “No Knowledge
University,” and whose most famous alumnus is actor George
Clooney, who studied journalismbefore he dropped out. Forty
percent of students are the first in their families to go to college.
“We visited a lot of schools where nothing was happening,”
said freshmanMichael Mann, who chose NKU over the
University of Kentucky. “Here they’re really doing things.”
While more than four out of five NKU students are
commuters, more, like Mann, are living in new dorms or
sticking around between classes in the new student union.
Students sipping Starbucks lattes browse brochures on tables
set up by recruiters for FedEx and Procter &Gamble. “I see
tons of people just walking around,” said KeithWilson, a
senior and opinion editor of the student
newspaper, the
Northerner
. “When I first
came here, people just didn’t hang out.”
Amanda Neace, a junior and the paper’s
co-editor in chief, added, “People who
came here like me just a few years ago
wouldn’t believe howmuch this place has
changed.”
Now the question is whether that
momentum can continue. The university
is trying to offset its continuing budget
hits by finding newways to save money—
and tomake it. Despite the $3.3 million
cut in its $55 million state allocation this
year, it shuffled the budget enough to pay
for 61 new full-time and 116 part-time
faculty. It plans to earn a profit from the
Bank of Kentucky Center, and to add a
money-making $30 million hotel, retail, restaurant and office
complex at the entrance to the campus. It built the student
center with the proceeds of a fee that students levied on
themselves (in a poll by the
Northerner,
83 percent said they
considered it a good investment), saved $20 million that was to
have been spent on a new dormby converting a nearby former
nursing home instead, and opted to forgomoving to NCAA
Division I, which would have required $25 million in facility
improvements. (Western Kentucky University had to increase
student fees by $70 a semester to pay for doubling its football
budget, and spent $49 million on its stadiumwhen it moved
fromDivision IAA to Division IA.)
NKU also has eliminatedmajors such as aviation
management, and though local economic-development types
are pushing for an expensive engineering major, it so far has
not added one, teaming up instead to run dual engineering
programs with the universities of Kentucky, Louisville and
Cincinnati.
Even all of that might not be enoughmaintainmomentum.
“The reallocation was our attempt to say, ‘What can we do to
keep on track?’” said Sue Hodges Moore, vice president for
planning, policy and budget. “But that cannot go on forever.
Something’s got to give.”
Or, say university officials, the community will have to
stand up for the university the way they say the university has
stood up for the community. “It’s not all about the institution.
It’s about what the state needs and what this region needs,”
Moore said. Now comes the biggest test of his community-
engagement strategy, Votruba said. “The more tangible benefits
they see accruing to them, their families, their communities,
their lives, the more likely people should be to support us at
budget time, at advocacy time,” he said.
Hammons, the Visions 2015 president, is a believer. “We
were the last regional university established in Kentucky, and
in a sense we accepted that,” he said. “Whatever we got, we felt
we were lucky to get it. But about ten years ago that changed.
We became a whole lot more aggressive, and we spoke as a
community. And it’s really important for the state to keep
focused not on howwe can cut the pie more, but howwe can
increase the pie.”
Back at the ribbon-cutting for the Bank of Kentucky
Center, which is connected to the rest of the campus by a
pedestrian bridge, Votruba wields his giant scissors again and
again with various groups of political and financial backers.
“Last night, I got served a little bit toomuch of that poison,
baby,” Carrie Underwood’s voice croons from the speakers.
“Last night, I did things I’mnot proud of/And I got a little
crazy.”The concessions are in full operation, and there are
cheerleaders and an a cappella group to sing the national
anthem. The air is thick with optimism.
“We needmore Kentuckians to go to college. We need
more Kentuckians to finish college if we’re going to thrive as a
community and as a region,” Votruba says to the assembled.
“Tens of thousands of visitors will come here each year. And
they’ll see this bridge as a bridge to their future.”
u
JonMarcus is a writer based in Boston, who covers higher
education in the U.S. for the (UK)
Times Higher Education
magazine.
Reductions in state
funding for higher
education are putting
even more of the
burden on tuition,
which now accounts
for nearly two-thirds of
NKU’s budget, and has
been rising steeply.
Douglas Perry, a cell biologist, is founding dean of
the new College of Informatics at Northern Kentucky
University.
Chris Cone, Black Star, for CrossTalk