Provost Reports on Academic State of Mason

Posted: November 5, 2010 at 1:05 am, Last Updated: November 4, 2010 at 4:08 pm

By Robin Herron

Provost Peter Stearns provided an update on the university’s academic-related matters, ranging from the budget to enrollment growth, at an open forum on Nov. 3.

Stearns opened his remarks by noting that he would not address global education, since he recently held a separate forum on that; or distance education, since a forum on that is scheduled for Nov. 11.

Among the achievements Stearns noted were

  • Research funding is up by 13 percent this year.
  • The university recently received the largest grant in its history.
  • Admission applications are up, and so is enrollment.
  • The GPA of entering students continues to rise.
  • New buildings and facilities are steadily coming online to meet space needs at the Fairfax Campus.

Other major topics the provost addressed were Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) reaccreditation; the university budget; the future of the distributed campuses; and enrollment growth.

  • The provost said that the report due to SACS was submitted and the university expects a written reply within a couple of weeks that will detail any areas of concern. The SACS review team will visit the campus in late March 2011. At that time, the Quality Enhancement Plan should be approved, and “we’ll start to do it.”
  • The provost noted that the university will experience a significant reduction in funding next year. The federal stimulus funding “goes away,” along with state funds associated with that program. On the downside, the governor recently requested all state agencies to submit proposed budgets with 2-, 4-, and 6-percent cuts, although it is not yet clear if cuts will be needed. “We would have to handle that in part through tuition increases,” Stearns said.
  • In any event, Stearns noted, the trend is for state support to dwindle, even if the economy should improve over the next few years. To accommodate this new fiscal climate, the university is looking at money-making business and real estate opportunities, executive and continuing education programs, as well as recruitment of international students. Stearns said that suggestions for other money-raising ventures are welcome. “You’ll see us paying increasing attention to these, but in accordance with our central mission,” Stearns added.
  • People will hear more discussion about the distributed campuses. The Arlington Campus classroom space is underutilized, while the Prince William Campus classroom utilization has risen to nearly the state standard. Expansion in Loudoun County is still in the planning stage, while “scattered other locations may see some developments,” Stearns said.
  • There are three possible scenarios for the university’s enrollment growth, ranging from major to moderate to low, Stearns said, but much will depend on space needs for programs. “There are several areas we would like to pursue, where we won’t initially know what the enrollment will be.” He cited the George Squared biomedical education program at the Prince William Campus that attracted more than double the number of students expected.

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