Eastern Michigan University is in full swing for the new winter semester with more students and a robust set of activities planned for the next several months. Enrollment is up slightly from last winter and we anticipate about a one percent increase in student credit hours; more than last year, but slightly below our forecasted budget. We see evidence that our freshmen and transfer retention initiatives are making progress, with 30 percent fewer FTIAC students and 60 percent fewer transfer students dismissed at the end of the last semester compared to a year ago.
For those students facing financial difficulties, I am pleased to report that we are making excellent progress on an agreement with Sallie Mae Corporation to infuse an additional $2.4 million annually to several new student loan programs under development, including signature private loans for students with past due obligations, career training loans for continuing education students, an opportunity loan program for students ineligible for other aid programs, loans for international students, and savings to EMU borrowers who make on-time payments.
Our students, working together with the faculty and staff on the Martin Luther King Day Planning Committee, did an excellent job developing and implementing more than 50 campus-wide events over several days, culminating in a rich learning experience during our official student holiday yesterday in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King and his ideals. I am also pleased to report that two new endowed scholarships focused on historically under-represented students recently have been established by Paul Tucker and Ernie and Jeanne Merlanti. This type of private support for students will help fulfill EMUís commitment to access and opportunity.
Expanded services to students are available this semester, as noted by our new full-time professional Greek advisor, Jeremiah Shinn, who is now on board, and as recognized by The Chronicle of Higher Education, our Access Services website has been listed as one of the best in the country for students with disabilities. Special recognition also goes to the EMU Hockey Club which is number one in the country, and to the 22 EMU students who participated in community service activities at a public elementary school in New Orleans as part of Alternative Winter Break.
This year, winter came earlier and in more severe ways than I was led to believe. Special kudos go to the Physical Plant staff who have worked hard to keep campus parking lots and walkways accessible. Our largest new capital project, the expansion of on-campus student housing, continues to be on schedule and under budget despite the weather, and students are now able to learn in an enhanced instructional environment in the two Porter Building ìsmart classroomsî which are now completed.
We have new opportunities for administrators, faculty and staff to ìget smarterî about the environment, opportunities and trends in higher education that have special meaning for our strategic planning process. The Presidential Speaker Series has benefited from sessions on demographic change with Paul Tate, director of the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments, and on economic development with Doug Rothwell, head of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Over the next few weeks, we will spend time with Dr. Jim Votruba, president of Northern Kentucky University and chair of a national taskforce on public engagement by universities, and with professor Vincent Tinto of Syracuse University, who will lead multiple sessions on best practices for student retention, transfer and success.
Our senior leader search activities for a Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and a Vice President for Student Affairs are on schedule as the search committees review candidate credentials. You will recall that we conducted a successful search for a new Dean of the College of Technology in record time last fall, and I am pleased to report that Dr. John Dugger has now made the transition from Iowa State University. We also have initiated a search for a Vice President of Advancement and Executive Director of the EMU Foundation to provide new cabinet-level leadership for an organization that will focus on fundraising and alumni affairs on behalf of EMU and will be distinct from the management of our assets and conferencing activities at Eagle Crest. Both University leaders and Foundation trustees share a belief that new approaches are necessary if we are to achieve a higher level of private and public support. To that end, there is a Board agenda item today that authorizes collaborative discussions to develop a joint operating agreement relevant to Eagle Crest Management Corporation and a separate one relevant to the Foundation.
We soon will be engaged in a more robust set of activities in government relations as we enter the state appropriations season. I am pleased to report that alumni will be playing a larger role in our public support initiatives through our new Alumni Legislative Connection Program, which will provide alumni an opportunity to assist the University with legislative issues and ensure that their legislators are informed about EMU and its needs. A cohort of 25 alumni forms the initial class, some of whom received their orientation last week. I have been meeting with regional alumni groups as well, primarily to enhance their knowledge of EMU as we know it today and to strengthen their ties to their alma matter.
We also are reaching out to the immediate community to forge new collaborative arrangements with the city of Ypsilanti. Although University representatives have met periodically over the years with city officials, we will soon take that to a new level by jointly forming several task forces to address topics of mutual concern and to seek new ways of cooperating in such areas as student life, outreach programs, community development, master planning, applied research and signage. The property action item on the agenda today involving the sale of a house the University owns on Cross Street, which will return it to beneficial usage to both EMU students and the city, is just one step in the direction of closer town-gown relations.
I want to note that we have passed an important milestone in EMUís support of the stateís program for public charter schools. Gaudior Academy in Inkster, the first charter school authorized by the Board of Regents in 1996 and ranked as one of the most innovative and successful public school academies in Michigan, is the first school to have successfully undergone a comprehensive review to qualify for charter school renewal. The Board previously authorized a five-year contract renewal and I now have finalized that agreement.
Finally, in the philanthropic spirit we know is so essential for our success, I encourage you to mark your calendars and join us for the Beaux Arts Ball on Saturday, February 3, 2001, at the Marriott in support of students and programs in the College of Arts and Sciences.
This new year is off to an excellent start and I appreciate the dedication of the Board and our faculty, staff and students who have made this possible.