Lefton addresses alumni in Akron

Justine Stump

Similar to the President’s State of the Union Address, the president of Kent State University typically gives a state of the university speech every year.

This year, President Lefton won’t give his typical state of the university speech. Instead, he is conducting several smaller speeches with area alumni groups. Friday, he spoke to a group of alumni in Akron.

“[Lefton] is going out and meeting with different groups across Northeast Ohio rather than do a traditional single state of the university speech where a thousand people come to Kent State,” said Eric Mansfield, executive director for university media relations. “Instead this year he’s going to speak with smaller groups. This way he can interact with them and answer more of their individual questions.”

Friday’s speech revolved around the new buildings on campus and in the city of Kent, record enrollment, the high graduation rate and the challenges facing students.

“I know I’m in Akron, but anytime you get this many Kent State alumni in one room it becomes consecrated ground,” Lefton began his speech. “Today this is the ninth campus of Kent State.”

Lefton went on to list the university’s recent accomplishments including this year’s record enrollments, 70 percent of this year’s freshman class having a high school GPA of at least 3.0, the football team’s recent win and despite the recession the university finances are “just fine.”

“We have had the best year ever,” Lefton said and was met with a round of applause.

Lefton also took a moment to address some of the challenges facing today’s students. He mentioned the increase in student loan debt as well as the decrease of federal student aid and state funding.

“Another thing that is a concern to us is declining state funding. Basically, every year there is a budget cut. Every single year we get less money for student aid. This is the principal reason that tuition goes up,” Lefton said.

While Lefton concurred that the student debt increase is a problem, he didn’t offer much in the way of a solution.

“Student debt is a real issue is private universities where tuition is $55,000 a year,” Lefton said. “It’s very easy for students to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. The average student coming out of Ohio University is about $23,000….That’s approximately the cost of the new car they’re likely to buy.”

Lefton went on to mention tuition at Kent.

“It’s one of the things that keep me up at night,” he said. “How are we going to bring tuition down?”

However he made no mention of tuition lowering anytime soon, but Lefton said his strategy is to produce college graduates.

“You just can’t say, ‘things will work out.’ Hope isn’t a strategy. Hope is a belief. We have a strategy. We have a plan. Our plan focuses largely on college graduation. Our number one goal is to produce graduates,” Lefton said.

Lefton went on to detail the university’s renovation plans, referring to the new developments as a “game changer.” He encouraged all of the alumni present to visit Kent if they haven’t recently.

“We are creating a college town that will rival any college town,” Lefton said.

He pleaded for the crowd of alumni to remember they are where they are today because they had an education that prepared them for life.

“And we are going to make every Kent State student a success,” Lefton said. “Even if it kills me.”

Contact Justine Stump at [email protected].