Lefton outlines long-term goals for KSU

Jackie Valley

Last week, President Lester Lefton met with editors from the Daily Kent Stater and discussed a wide range of topics, including the need for gradual change, improvements in recruitment, retention and research at Kent State.

A Changing Landscape

After one year on the job, Lefton said the “real resistance to change at Kent State” surprised him the most, but he still believes thoughtful change is necessary due to the nature of higher education in Ohio.

“It’s a changing landscape in higher education in the state of Ohio whether we like it or not,” he said. “Things change and we’ve got to recognize that if we resist it, we get left in the dust.”

Lefton said he hopes the new provost, Robert Frank, will lead the faculty in changes that they have deemed necessary, such as LER reform, streamlining the curriculum and making the transfer of majors easier.

Ultimately, he said the goal is to “try and take the change and build it into something better” not just for today but for 10 or 20 years from now.

Classroom Priorities

To achieve his goal, Lefton wants to continue to focus on maintaining high academic standards and retaining students.

“We are emphasizing recruitment and retention this year,” he said. “They all fit with academic success and excellence.”

Lefton said Kent State can provide academic excellence by recruiting better students and faculty members, re-evaluating tenure standards and receiving more grants.

In addition to academic excellence, Lefton said student success is key to retention.

“I’m very concerned that students in Ohio don’t graduate,” he said.

Lefton said he expects the following improvements to the freshman experience will boost the university’s freshman retention, which is currently about 72 percent:

Revising freshman orientation classes and the PASS program,

Ensuring that the best faculty teaches freshman classes,

Identifying and aiding students who need help by the sixth week of the semester,

Raising money to provide more scholarships.

By placing an emphasis on developing stronger ties between students and faculty, Lefton said he hopes each student receives the one-on-one attention typical at a small liberal arts college.

“One of the most critical variables in determining whether a student feels this is a good place is whether faculty know them,” he said

Another leading factor in freshmen retention is money, Lefton said.

To prevent students from dropping out because of money, Lefton said the university is increasing the amount of scholarships through the Centennial Campaign, a major fundraising campaign that will coincide with the university’s 100-year anniversary.

“The past year, we’ve raised more money than any year before,” he said.

In addition to those efforts, Lefton said the presence of the newly hired provost is vital to improving recruitment and retention.

“The person you hire is essential to your success,” Lefton said, adding he is “very excited about Dr. Frank.”

Community and campus life

Outside the classroom, Lefton said he thinks creating “more of a college town” in Kent will improve the campus environment — and consequently, retention rates.

Although Lefton said he cannot control decisions in the city of Kent, he said he supports building a hotel and convention center in the city because they would generate more restaurants and stores in the area.

Lefton said he would like to see downtown Kent include student-friendly destinations that all ages can enjoy, such as coffee shops, jeans stores and galleries.

“I think if there was a vibrant downtown, my students would have a more rich experience,” he said.

Lefton said he supports keeping the Student Center and the University Library open later to provide a safe place for students to relax or study.

“We’ve got to create the best environment possible,” he said.

Marketing the university

Meanwhile, Lefton said the university is stepping up its marketing and advertising efforts to spread the “excellence in action” message.

“We do very little compared to sister institutions, and it has hurt us,” Lefton said.

He said the initiative, which may include external help from enrollment consultants, will help the university market its strengths to prospective students.

“We will be focusing on the recruitment of the best class,” he said, adding the university plans to attract a more diverse student body.

As a result, Lefton said the university’s admission standards will likely change, perhaps requiring students to finish remedial work at other colleges before transferring to Kent State.

Expanding research

Lefton, who has advocated the importance of research at Kent State for the past year, said his goal this year is for the university to double the amount of applications for grants.

“You’ve got to get in the game,” he said. “Many of our faculty have never tried to get in the game, so we’re telling them ‘get in the game and you’ll get rewarded for it.'”

Lefton said increasing research yields beneficial results, such as new equipment, laboratories and a richer experience for students.

“It’s part of an ecosystem of creating a great experience for students,” he said.

Plus, he said universities should strive to employ professors “active in their disciplines” because “part of having great professors is having professors doing exciting work.”

“What you don’t want is a faculty teaching from the same yellow notes from 1976,” he said.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].