Lefton: Public health school plan by April

Ben Wolford

KSU to emphasize out-of-state recruitment; university hopeful on faculty contract negotiations

President Lester Lefton hopes to have plans for a school of public health in less than a year. He said he asked Provost Robert Frank to have initial developments ready by April 2009.

In the meantime, Lefton is working toward “incremental” gains in out-of-state recruitment.

He spoke of these goals and others in a meeting with Summer Kent Stater editors that covered a wide range of topics Monday.

Out-of-state recruitment

Lefton said Pete Goldsmith, vice president of enrollment management, has hired admissions counselors to seek out students in Illinois, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

“They’ll go to high schools and guidance counselors in those states looking for bright young men and women who want to come to Kent State,” Lefton said.

The positive effects of increasing the number of students from outside Ohio are broad, he said.

“Data show that out-of-state students are far more likely to persist to graduation,” Lefton said. “You tend to have students who are much more committed to the institution.”

The benefits of that would come back in higher retention rates, bigger athletic event attendance and more students staying in Kent on weekends, he said.

He anticipates none of this to happen overnight, though.

“I see it as a 10-year process,” he said. “I see the change . as a 10-year, slow, steady march to excellence.”

A school of public health

Another part of that march is the establishment of a school of public health, which Lefton said would be created with roughly $2 million the Board of Trustees set aside for “strategic investment.” He also said it would be self-sustaining once it gets on its feet.

Lefton sees the addition as “a natural fit.”

“There’s only one school of public health in all of Ohio, and that’s at Ohio State,” Lefton said. “We have a relationship with a medical school (Northeast Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy) that we’re in a consortium with . The demand for this is huge.”

Lefton said the school would bring in more money than it would cost to sustain it, rather than what he called the university’s “traditional” approach of skimming dollars from other programs.

Frank has been charged with developing the curriculum, working with the faculty senate and establishing the degrees.

The program would give students a bachelor’s degree, doctor of medicine degree and a public health degree in eight years.

Faculty contract negotiations

Though it was before his time as Kent State president, Lefton said he heard the last time the university and faculty negotiated over contracts, it was a “long, contentious thing that didn’t get anybody any place.”

He’s hopeful this year will be different. Lefton said he doesn’t think anyone will strike, and this process is unlikely to ever have adverse effects on the students.

“I don’t see the faculty as the enemy, and I hope they don’t see the administration as the enemy,” he said. “The union and the administration had a, I would say, contentious relationship in previous years. I don’t see it that way right now.”

He said he is “cautiously hopeful” about the outcome of the negotiations.

Lefton also commented on the following topics:

&bull Tuition increase.

With the mandatory tuition freeze on Ohio public universities expiring after 2009, Lefton said he doesn’t foresee any spike in tuition cost.

“It will be my goal to make tuition increases relatively modest,” he said. “You can’t make up for the last two years of zero (percent increase) by all of a sudden charging 12 percent more. That defeats the whole purpose.”

&bull University relations.

Kathy Stafford, former vice president for university relations, and Ron Kirksey, former executive director of university communications and marketing, each left Kent State June 30 and April 30, respectively.

Lefton sees the opportunity to start fresh as a blessing.

“I’m looking to fill (Stafford’s) position with a person who has more direct involvement with me on a daily basis,” he said. “We don’t manage the press at Kent State, the press tends to manage us.”

Lefton said his goal is for the university to begin “working with the press in a more effective way.”

&bull University System of Ohio.

Chancellor Eric Fingerhut’s 10-year plan for higher education will become increasingly more difficult in a worsening economy, Lefton said.

“The chancellor’s 10-year plan is an aspirational statement of what could be,” he said. “Much of what the chancellor has in mind will involve investment by the state of Ohio. As the economy continues to deteriorate, this puts some of these aspirations in a speculative mode.”

The goal of Fingerhut’s plan is to increase Ohio university enrollment by 230,000 and to keep more graduates in Ohio. Lefton said so far, Kent State has seen no effects.

“There’s nothing in the plan that has affected us in any material way to date,” he said.

&bull Freshmen enrollment.

Lefton anticipates first-year enrollment of about 3,850 for Fall 2008. The Daily Kent Stater reported last fall that estimated first-year enrollment would be 3,625 for 2007.

“It’s what I’m projecting,” he said. “It could be 3,800. It could be 3,900, but I’m hoping that when all is said and done, it will be 3,850.”

He projects the retention rate from the freshman class of 2007 to be 73 percent, also an increase from the previous year.

Contact principal reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].