With incoming Ohio University President Duane Nellis sitting in the front row for a number of sessions, the OU Board of Trustees met in Walter Hall Thursday to discuss a variety of topics, including the Dublin campus expansion and Gov. John Kasich's budget plan.
Joint Academics and Resources Committee
The board began the Joint Committee meeting discussing the possible effects of Kasich’s recent budget, which proposes a two-year tuition freeze in addition to an effort that would cap the cost of student textbooks at a rate of $300 per year.
With no university-owned bookstore on the Athens campus, however, the proposal poses a unique dilemma for OU and has the potential for a significant impact on local bookstores’ abilities to stay in business, Vice President for Finance and Administration Deborah Shaffer said.
Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit noted the $300 cap is “not a workable proposal” for the university, which estimates the average OU student spends approximately $1,034 on textbooks per year, according to a recent survey.
“We’d like the opportunity to develop … an alternative proposal to the governor’s budget,” Benoit said. “I think what we’re hearing is ‘do this faster,’ but one of our constraints is no bookstore on campus. How do we do it in a way when we are not controlling cost?”
In response to the governor’s proposal, Benoit highlighted OU’s online “alt-textbook” initiative, as well as teaching platforms such as Top Hat, which some board members agreed could be viable options for reducing cost for students, while maintaining the quality of academic materials.
Applications and admissions, Benoit explained, are higher than ever due to the university’s recent switch to the Common Application. Concern was raised, however, that President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration and travel could impact international student admissions by as much as a 10 percent enrollment decrease. Nationwide, nearly 40 percent of higher educational institutions have seen decreases in international student applications, according to an Inside Higher Ed report.
Shawna Bolin, director of University Planning and Space Management, presented the board with an updated plan for the upcoming Dublin campus. The plan, which was recently approved by the City of Dublin, is slated for the board’s approval tomorrow.
“I think Dublin’s a metaphor in many respects, for our 11 campuses,” Stephen Golding, senior vice president for strategic initiatives, said. “Those campuses are intended to support OHIO’s broad teaching, research and service mission. And it recognizes that we have a history of community engagement going back to the early 1900s.”
The trustees are also set to decide upon a 2 percent limitation of tuition and fee increases for OU regional campuses, as well as a 3.5 percent tuition increase exclusively for HCOM students.
Craig Cornell, senior vice provost for Strategic Enrollment Management, continued to discuss the record number of applications OU has received under the Common Application.
The university has received about 25,500 applications at this point, which is a nearly 30 percent increase from last year and a record number this year in the state, Cornell said.
"We are setting record in the state there," he said. "Our brand and our being out there in the Common Application this year … have really led to us having to a pretty fantastic year of getting students to apply to us."
Though the university has seen a significant increase in applications, the number of housing deposits is down by about 10 percent compared to the same time last year, Cornell said. He added that it might be because of competition within the Common Application and the general switch to the application.
Cornell also gave an update on OU's enrollment for Spring Semester. Final spring enrollment numbers showed OU has 17,168 undergraduate students on its Athens campus and 34,587 students total.
Bolin presented the committee with an overview of the proposed “Union Street Green,” an HCOM-centric area located near West Green. A resolution to approve transition into the design phase will go before the board Friday, potentially marking a $8.9 million investment toward the $65 million project.
A representative from Prager & Co., the university’s financial/investment partner, gave an overview of recent transaction history, noting a significant occurrence in which OU sold $156.15 million of bonds on Feb. 7.
The university announced its intent to purchase 31 S. Court St, which it currently leases for $800,000 per year. Purchasing the building for a price of $8 million would ultimately result in savings of $300,000 in the university’s annual operating budget.
Ping Recreation Center will undergo a $1.4 million “crisis project” to stabilize the weak underlying soil, which has resulted in visible cracks and movement in the walls. Although the building remains safe to occupy, periodic inspections alerted the university to the need to remedy the problem before the soil further weakens.
Nellis' first day as OU's 21st president will be earlier than expected.
The Governance Committee passed a resolution on the effective date of Nellis’ appointment. He will start his role as president on June 12, OU's General Counsel John Biancamano said.
When Nellis was named OU’s 21st president in February, the trustees announced his first day would be July 1.
Representatives from Plante Moran, a consulting firm, presented updates on its outside audit of OU to the Audit Committee.
Jeff Davis, OU's chief audit executive, presented updates on audits of construction projects. Davis said an audit by public accounting firm Baker Tilly found an error the construction contractor had made during the construction of Jefferson Hall renovations, saving the university thousands of dollars.
— Kaitlin Coward, Lauren Fisher, Bailey Gallion, Megan Henry and Emily Leber contributed to this report.