At Monday's university forum, attendees received a budget and facilities update before learning about the priority projects identified within each of the five new administrative pillars. President Brock Tessman led off with an introduction and said a forum each semester is among the planned strategies to enhance transparency and communication on campus.
Others include monthly budget academy workshops with smaller groups, continued “ground-level interaction” through meetings with academic and administrative units, and digital approaches ranging from email updates to multimedia/social media strategies designed to more effectively reach students on a consistent basis.
“If you recall, at the convocation reception attendees were invited to fill out cards identifying ‘unsung heroes' doing great work, but not always recognized or elevated for doing that work,” Tessman said. “Today we hosted our first lunch with a cross-section of some of those named and will hold more throughout the year. It's a good opportunity to meet and share candid thoughts. There's no hiding the ball here. It's hard to communicate perfectly, but we can always do better. Our intention is to listen and provide information and opportunities for feedback as earnestly as possible.”
In his budget update, Vice President for Finance and Administration Gavin Leach said three primary factors affect the general fund budget: enrollment; state appropriations, which now comprise roughly one third of revenue—a downward shift from nearly 70% in 1993; and tuition and fees, which now account for the largest piece of the pie chart at 63%. On the expense side, personnel costs represent 54% of the budget if financial aid is included or 64% without it.
The state's budget cycle begins in the fall with the capital outlay and budget requests that universities are required to submit annually. The governor's executive budget is released in February, followed by the House and Senate proposals. Conference meetings or Legislative and Executive leader meetings are then held to review all three and a final budget is typically approved between June and September.
NMU's fiscal year 2024 general fund operating budget, approved by the Board of Trustees earlier this month, includes $3.3 million in new investments and initiatives, some of which are part of a $1.5 million increase in financial aid and scholarships.
“It's a pretty methodical process the state goes through and we match that throughout with our own processes,” Tessman said. “This was a landmark year in terms of enrollment and tuition revenue, but you can see the $6.6 million in revenue was more than half spoken for in terms of personnel services and compensation. The priorities the university is focusing on are reflected in the new initiatives and investments.”
Leach summarized progress on the following facilities projects scheduled to begin in 2024: Harden Hall renovation, starting in January; Science Complex research and teaching lab, May; and Superior Dome turf replacement, summer. The renovation of Vandement Arena to accommodate basketball will begin this December and wrap up in August. The Berry Events Center ice-making system was replaced and ready for use in October, shortly before the hockey season began.
Summaries of the remaining pillars and priority projects follow below:
1. Academic Affairs: Interim Provost Dale Kapla reported that NMU is working to create a ‘campus for all' that increases accessibility and reduces barriers. The university will develop an inventory of accessible features on campus, create an interactive map that will be made publicly available on our website, and develop a prioritization list that will address deficiencies. Academic Affairs will also be working with student groups, Disability Services and the Wellbeing office on programming to support mentally ill and neurodivergent students until they graduate; and with the Center for Teaching and Learning on Universal Design for Learning, which gives students options for how they learn and demonstrate their learning.
2. Northern Student Experience: Jeff Korpi, associate vice president of the Northern Student Experience, said increasing engagement with local/commuter students is the current priority. The effort will work to establish a connection before they apply, which will aid in recruitment, and continue through increased summer opportunities. During the academic year, NMU will promote involvement in organizations and activities, as well as opportunities to remain on campus between classes and interact with others. He said all will lead to an increased sense of belonging.
3.People, Culture and Wellbeing: Vice President Rhea Dever said the pillar project is a formalized staff professional development program that supports ongoing learning and growth opportunities for NMU employees. She partnered with the staff union leader advisory team on the effort. Key takeaways from a recent survey are: the decentralized onboarding experiences vary significantly; people feel they have limited access to on-campus and off-campus development experiences (cost and time are challenges); and there's definitely a strong interest in building technical, career-specific and leadership/interpersonal skills. The project will build out a more robust staff onboarding process, map professional development so employees can “have a long runway” at NMU, brand the program with badges or milestone recognition of progress made, and pilot a staff professional development day this spring (date TBD).
4.Diversity and Inclusion: As co-chair of the search committee for NMU's new assistant vice president for Diversity and Inclusion, Jill Compton reported that 16 candidates submitted applications by the deadline, and on-campus finalist interviews will be scheduled later in November. She also noted that NMU has received a King Chavez Parks six-year grant worth about $100,000 per year to support programming and initiatives that contribute to student success and belonging; created a central Heritage Calendar; scheduled the UNITED Conference, which will again partner with the Diversity Common Reader Program and its selection, “What My Bones Know” by Staphanie Foo, for March 21; and worked with Athletics on diversity initiatives, including dedicating one game in every sport to celebrating LGBTQ+ and ethnicities represented at NMU.
5.Student Affairs and Success: Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Chris Greer elaborated on the new Success Advising organizational structure serving students from entry to graduation. This new structure moved ACAC and Embedded Advising into the new Success Advising program. Eight clusters of related majors have assigned advisers in offices in or close to the departments they serve. The exploring and non-degree cluster works out of the Student Success Office in Hedgcock. Greer said feedback has been positive from students and department heads. Read more in this previous Northern Today story.