Testimony of James Smith, President
March 1, 2018
Good afternoon. Thank you, Chair Schuitmaker and members of the Subcommittee, for inviting me to update you about the wonderful things happening at Eastern Michigan University. I appreciate the opportunity to share with the subcommittee our latest initiatives and what we see on the horizon for Michigan’s second-oldest public university.
I would like to briefly introduce two student leaders who are in the audience today: Eastern’s student body president, Miles Payne, and vice president, Larry Borum.
Miles is a senior from Auburn Hills studying psychology and sociology. Larry is a senior from Grosse Pointe studying engineering physics. Both Larry and Miles have served as resident assistants, and Larry was named RA of the year and is published in our McNair Scholars journal. They are two outstanding student leaders and I’m happy they were able to attend today.
New Academic Programs
As the economy continues to grow, the new challenge facing our State is ensuring that we have the talent to meet employers’ demands. As an example, it is estimated that 1,000 engineering jobs go unfilled in Michigan every day.
To help address that challenge, Eastern is developing new academic programs in leading-edge areas.
This year, we launched a new Mechanical Engineering program to train students to work as licensed mechanical engineers in a variety of high-paying, high-growth industries … including automotive, aerospace, medical devices, and robotics.
We are also launching a new program in Electrical and Computer Engineering. The program will train students to be in the forefront of designing the next generation of electronics.
Reflecting our investment in new engineering programs, we encourage the legislature to enact a capital outlay bill this year, and to include Eastern’s Sill Hall, which houses our engineering programs. Sill is an old building in desperate need of renovation and expansion – and the State’s partnership with Eastern on this important project would dramatically increase the number of future Michigan engineers. Eastern has consistently proven that we manage construction projects on time and on budget, including Strong Hall for which we are grateful for capital outlay support. Nonetheless, we lag behind our peers in capital outlay awards.
In addition to new engineering programs, Eastern is also launching a Data Science and Analytics program. Students graduating with a bachelor’s degree in this exciting interdisciplinary field will be trained to organize, aggregate, and analyze rapidly generated data from many sources. The Harvard Business Review named the job of data scientist the “sexiest job of the 21st Century”!
And just last month, our Board approved a new master’s in finance program to train students in the key areas of financial modeling, data analytics, and statistical analysis.
We are investing in partnerships that provide expanded opportunities and benefits for our students, faculty, staff and residents in our nearby community.
Last month, we announced a new collaboration with Saint Joseph Mercy Health System and IHA to build a new health facility on Eastern’s campus. Featuring primary and urgent care services, the center will provide teaching opportunities for our students in the health fields, as well as support the campus and surrounding community with high quality health care.
Over the last 21 months, we have entered into major strategic agreements with outside partners to further stabilize our budget beyond the support we receive from the state and student tuition dollars. This includes a new innovative partnership to monetize Eastern’s parking operations – a 35-year agreement that provided $55 million to the University. We are the first University in the state to enter into such an agreement. We also moved to privatize our dining operations, which resulted in more than $31 million in upfront payments, capital investment in facilities and student scholarships – a partnership that also has increased employment opportunities for students on our campus.
These are just a few examples of new efforts we are launching to meet the evolving market and to prepare Michigan students – and our entire State – for a dynamic economy.
We are launching these new programs while maintaining our commitment to affordability. Eastern remains one of the most affordable institutions in the State, and nearly 97% of our undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid.
Importantly, these investments in high-demand, high-wage programs will directly benefit Michigan students because nearly 90% of our students come from Michigan, and student surveys consistently show that 75–80% of our students stay in Michigan after graduation.
Simply put, we are investing in Michigan students today to fill the Michigan jobs of tomorrow.
Eastern’s students are also a cross-section of Michigan backgrounds and geographies.
- We have over 20,000 students, from 77 of Michigan’s 83 counties.
- We also have over 120,000 alumni living in Michigan, in every county in the State.
- Over 40% of our undergraduate students receive Pell Grants.
- 27% of our students identify as first-generation.
- Nearly 80% of our students report working full- or part-time while attending Eastern.
- We have one of the largest populations of veteran students, and were honored to be named by I. Jobs magazine as the #3 “Military Friendly” large public university in the country.
We recognize that students choose different paths. Eastern has, for years, offered dual enrollment programs and partnered with community colleges to provide seamless and cost-effective opportunities for Michigan families. Such partnerships are championed by the Governor and we embrace them because they offer Michigan students different options for success.
- For example, the Early College Alliance at EMU brings high school students to Eastern’s campus for up to four years of their high school experience where they take their regular courses – as well as Eastern courses for college credit, for free. This partnership with local school districts is the gold standard for dual enrollment.
- Our Eastern Scholars program is similar to the Early College Alliance, except it takes place in local high schools. Teachers in the high schools are trained to deliver college-level curriculum, or EMU instructors deliver the curriculum on-site at the high school. The students receive college-level credit from Eastern – at no cost to the student. We offer this program at schools in Lapeer, Livingston, and Washtenaw counties, and are exploring new programs in Oakland and Wayne counties.
- We are thrilled to have 148 articulation agreements with community colleges from throughout Michigan – by far the largest number in the State. These agreements serve as a road map for students to take courses at a community college that will count for credit at Eastern.
- In light of our efforts, Eastern was one of only 63 institutions nationwide named to the Phi Theta Kappa 2017 Transfer Honor Roll, which recognizes excellence in community college transfer pathways.
- The facts illustrate our commitment to seamless transitions: 61% of the students who graduated from Eastern in 2017 had earned community college credits.
These partnerships with high schools and community colleges are good for Michigan families and good for our economy. Unfortunately, the State budget performance metrics punish – rather than reward – these partnerships. We suggest that the legislature look carefully at how to incentivize and reward universities that implement dual enrollment and community college partnerships. One recommendation is to include a metric assessing the number of community college transfer students, or the number of dual enrollment or community college credits taken by a University’s recent graduates.
Title IX and Campus Safety
In light of the recent events, I want to update you on Eastern’s long-standing commitment to ensuring student safety.
Eastern enforces comprehensive Title IX policies, and we have implemented numerous successful training initiatives addressing a wide range of campus constituencies. Some of our innovative training proposals were funded through First Lady Snyder’s initiative to end sexual assault on college campuses, and we also hosted the sold-out Sexual Assault Prevention Summit last Fall.
The Title IX staff, General Counsel, Provost, head of Human Resources, and Police Chief meet every week to review Title IX cases and discuss policies. Most of these individuals – including the Police Chief – report directly to me, and thus I regularly meet with them one-on-one. I also meet with the Title IX Coordinator several times per year.
On a broader scale, we have invested significantly in our police force and in new safety technologies, including cameras and new lighting across campus. Eastern’s campus is one of the safest in the State, and we partner closely with local police agencies to ensure coordination and support. Our officers patrol areas off campus to support the efforts of local agencies. This is funded directly out of our base budget – as the State has limited funds in which to support this important level of public safety support for our nearby community. Eastern Michigan University is committed to the safety of our students regardless of where they live.
As a final note, we are undertaking a comprehensive review of our systems to streamline operations and deliver better service to our students and employees. Our goal is always to ensure that we are using the dollars we receive from students and taxpayers as efficiently as possible.
As a result, Eastern will employ fewer people next year than we did this year. These decisions were not easy, but they were necessary and will allow us to direct even more resources to student success and innovative academic programs.
In addition, just last month we fired up a new cogeneration energy unit that that will provide more than 90% of the University’s electricity and heat, and save more than $2.8 million annually in energy costs, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The system is the most technically sophisticated in the state.
Although some like to criticize what they perceive to be University overhead, the reality is that we operate an extremely lean system – and we are proud of that. Unfortunately, significant financial challenges lie ahead for many of our State’s institutions. Michigan is graduating fewer high school students, which means fewer college students. For years, the federal government has invested almost no new money in Pell Grants. And, today, Eastern receives nearly $10 million less from the State per year than we received in 2003. Adjusting for inflation, that gap is over $36 million per year – more than 10% of our operating budget.
We are pleased that we tied for first place in the university performance metric scores, reflecting our investments in student success. We are grateful for the State’s efforts to increase funding, and we ask that the legislature approve the Governor’s higher education budget as proposed but, if possible, we urge you to do even more. As Dan Hurley noted in his testimony to you a few weeks ago, states that have more college graduates have higher incomes and higher employment levels. The fact is that investing in Michigan’s public universities is absolutely the best short-term and long-term investment you can make.
In closing, thank you again for allowing me this opportunity. I would be happy to answer any questions.
James M. Smith, Ph.D.