Student debt. Career readiness. Progressive construction of facilities.
These were a few of the topics which Dr. Pamela Davies, president of the university, addressed in her Oct. 18 State of the University speech in which she presented portions of her 2017 strategic plan.
Davies’ third five-year plan, entitled “Reimagine Excellence,” focuses on overcoming what she deems a “higher education bubble” by scholarship fundraising, expanding available technology and strengthening international education, internships and community involvement – three of Queens’ “signature student experiences.”
Rising tuition costs in a beleaguered economy, the president said is one of the biggest obstacles that American higher education faces. One of a university’s most effective tools to combat rising tuition costs is offering scholarships, which is also difficult to accomplish in a global recession when donors are more hesitant to open their pocketbooks.
According to Davies, though, the value of an education far outweighs its fiscal cost.
“While I don’t like to see anybody take on debt, an education is a good investment,” she said. “My commitment is to ensure that it’s an appropriate investment. To take on some debt in order to invest in your education—your future—is not totally irrational.”
At approximately $25,000, the average debt of a Queens graduate is higher than the national average, but 10 percent under that of other private institutions.
Queens recently received a $21 million gift from Porter Byrum to go specifically to endowed scholarships, the largest such donation in the university’s history. A stipulation of the contribution is that $5 million will be used to evenly match other scholarship donations of at least $50,000.
The construction overhaul on campus was identified as Queens’ own participation in a “facilities arms race” among colleges and universities. Derided by some as an unnecessary expense, Davies disagrees.
“One of the most important things that makes a university great is great students, and great students want good facilities,” she said. “I’ve never aspired to compete on the basis of our facilities, but I do aspire to achieve parity with other universities so it’s not a disincentive to come to Queens. Frankly, our facilities were a disincentive to come.”
The Rogers Science Building, South Residence Hall and parking deck and the Levine Center for Recreation and Wellness are new projects worked on this year. South opened its doors in late September, while Rogers will host classes beginning this semester. The Levine Center is slated to be finished in July.
While alleviating the financial cost of attending school and updating facilities are valid concerns, the plan also seeks to improve the overall student experience through an intensified focus upon career readiness and premier internship opportunities.
Like the prestigious Ford internship that two students are awarded every summer, Siemens AG has been identified as another “preferred provider of internships, going above and beyond to provide our students with exceptional experiences.”
“We have found great openness in local businesses for our interns,” said Davies about professional relationships with other enterprises. “We are looking at majors employers in the Charlotte area to try to cultivate those relationships, but we have to make sure we can produce students with those skills and experiences to meet current needs.”
Improvements, however, come at a hefty cost. One manner by which Queens seeks to mitigate expenses is a resource allocation adjustment initiative, better known to the public as “Living Lean.” To Davies, the program is not a series of spending cuts; rather it is a more effective use of resources already available.
“The campus community has been very supportive of [the Living Lean initiative],” said Davies. “We’re trying to constrain our spending in a way that is good for the university, but that protects the student experience. We’ve actually asked that everyone prioritize how they spend their resources in such a way that first and foremost protects the student experience.”
Has the belt-tightening adversely affected academics and the educational community?
With the addition of four new majors to the Blair College of Health in the fall and eight new majors to the university at large this spring, such speculation is quickly dismissed. The president went on to discuss even more major additions.
“The deans and their faculty in the colleges are looking at where student demand is and where we have capabilities to deliver new programs,” said Davies.
Davies concluded by comparing her 10-year tenure with the outlook of the future, predicting positive changes to come.
“I’m extremely bullish on the future of Queens,” she said. “I’ve been here 10 years and this is the most exciting of the three plans in that it is squarely focused on academic excellence and student scholarship… This next five years is about attracting new students and giving them an outstanding academic experience, which we’ve always been committed to, but we will strengthen that commitment even further.
“[The students’] biggest misperception is that they don’t know much about me or that I’m inaccessible. I want them to know that I truly care about their education and their lives. Whether I’m on campus or traveling to see alumni or donors, I’m really trying to do what’s in the best interest of the university and the students.”