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Members of the Ohio University Board of Trustees meet in 2019 in Walter Hall (FILE:). 

OU Board of Trustees discusses retention rate, campus building improvements

Correction Appended: The original report said David Koonce was the Dean of the Graduate College and Vice President of Research and Russell Morrow attended the regional campus visits with President Gonzales. The updated report states that he is the Dean of the Graduate College and Interim Vice President for Research and Creative Activity, removed Morrow from the campus visit and added Carly Leatherwood.  

The Ohio University Board of Trustees met Thursday and Friday to discuss improving students’ retention rates, renovating campus buildings and better-utilizing campus facilities.

Academics and Student Success Committee

OU’s Academics and Student Success Committee met Thursday afternoon, focusing on recent graduation, retention and enrollment trends. 

Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs spoke on the student success planning group, which formed a plan in 2018 to approach student success holistically.

Some goals of the group were to implement experiential learning, offer quality advising for students and roll out the mobile GoOHIO app. For the future, the Board is looking at a new retention model.

“We’ve been steadily increasing our retention,” Sayrs said. “We had a very significant rebound with our most recent cohort.”

Through analysis, Sayrs said a significant factor in retaining students through graduation was the university assisting in financial aid. When the university covered students' full financial needs, it aided retention rates.

Investments in supplemental instruction, or SI, also showed an increase in students’ success rates. Sayrs said over the last year, SI participation and availability increased.

“We’re seeing a critical difference of 4% success increase as well as a letter grade,” she said.

Similarly, Sayrs said intervention support services as part of the committee’s quality advising goal have been part of the student success plan.

The retention rates of OU’s regional campuses were analyzed and compared with the Athens campus rates. The Regional Promise Program, which covers the gap in financial aid for regional campus students, has also seen higher retention rates.

The committee also presented an update regarding the university’s Carnegie Classification.

The Carnegie Classification system classifies schools for research and doctoral programs. OU was named with the highest status as an “R1” school in 2022. In November 2023, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education announced it was revising its Basic Classification status and that universities would be under a new model in January 2025.

Dean of the Graduate College and Interim Vice President for Research and Creative Activity David Koonce said the new model is supposed to be sophisticated, transparent and independent of the Basic Classification.

“Many schools treat this as a right and not like a class that you are a member of,” Koonce said. “This is a big change, a really big change.”

Resources, Facilities and Affordability Committee

The Resources, Facilities and Affordability committee had a short three-item agenda at the January meeting, which included an update on how OU will best optimize facilities’ space.

John Day, interim vice president of finance and administration, presented the optimization project at the meeting but gave all credit to Shawna Wolfe and her team, who he said created the project and did most of the work on it, but has since left the university. Day said the project is important because, after personnel costs, facilities cost is the university’s next biggest expense. 

The optimization of the university’s space will reduce maintenance expenses because the end goal is to reduce the amount OU is responsible for maintaining.

“We know we have too much space, so let's get rid of some of it,” Day said.

Day said one of the problems OU has with its space is a department utilizes certain buildings and neglects other buildings’ space. To start using these buildings’ space, the strategy provided to the Board plans to develop a governance structure that determines who uses spaces and prioritizes projects that it believes are important to OU as a whole.

The next part of the strategy is to implement a new space model, which means simplifying the university’s existing labels for spaces. Day said having simpler terms for spaces allows departments to move in and out of rooms more easily, which will create a model of shared stewardship that makes all spaces accessible to different departments rather than certain departments trying to declare ownership of the space. 

Day said it’s also not in the university's best interests to charge costs on specific spaces. 

“A unit will say, ‘Well, I had to pay for this space, I'm going to sit on it no one else can use it, even if I'm using it at 30% capacity,' is (the same as) 'I'm going to sit on it, and the rest of it's not available for everybody to use,'” he said. “We're trying to break down that model and have where it's a shared resource.”

The final part of the strategy is to develop specific projects and tools to assist people in finding spaces that suit them the best. This includes updating design standards to renovate rooms to be used by more than one department, developing recommendations to modernize spaces and freeing up others for other purposes, taking advantage of underused space and creating technology that makes space more available and easier to find. 

The committee approved the four capital projects it discussed. One was an upgrade to Bentley and Morton Halls to improve learning spaces in the two buildings. The budget for this is $1.9 million and includes a study phase that will determine the needs each building has for upgrades. 

Jonathan Cozad, interim associate vice president of design and construction, said the $1.9 million will not cover all of the needs in these academic halls but will be the first phase. Construction for this project is scheduled for the summer of 2024.

Cozad also presented to the committee adding more funds to improving the HVAC in Shannon Hall on OU’s Eastern Campus. The previously approved budget was a little less than $1.6 million, and the committee requested another $1.8 million at this meeting.

The other two projects were to replace the room on the Lausche Heating Plant at 95 Factory St., which has a budget of $1.16 million. Cozad said this project was funded completely with residual funds, meaning it was paid with money that was carried over from projects completed under budget. 

The final project was to improve lighting controls and tie in the water chiller with another in Blackburn Memorial Auditorium. The committee budgeted $1.7 million for this project.

Audit and Risk Management Committee

Johnathan Schultz, audit senior manager with Crowe LLP, presented an audit for the 2023 Fiscal Year to the board. 

Schultz began with a summary of some testing the committee completed during the summer months.

“Starting in May where we did some transactional level and control type testing over items such as payroll, cash receipts, tuition revenue, in that May time period into June and July,” Schultz said. 

Following this, Schultz also mentioned that the committee had drafted and finalized a report within the Ohio state auditor’s deadline. 

“(That) really leads us here to today, where we go over our final required communications, which we hold off on until the Ohio auditor state has approved and accepted the financial statements, which they have,” Schultz said. 

To conclude the committee meeting, Schultz told the Board that in 2025, there will be a new pronouncement that will be required, but he has heard nothing new for Fiscal Year 2024. 

Governance and Compensation Committee 

The committee voted on a new cybersecurity engineering program, a new general studies program, program reviews, transcript withholding and the Ohio University Foundation Code of Regulations Amendment. 

The Board also voted unanimously on the election of a new secretary, Shelley Bean, who also works as the university’s paralegal. 

President’s Report

In her report, OU President Lori Stewart Gonzalez started by talking to the Board about recent trips she had made to the regional campuses. 

Several administrators spoke at the regional campus including Carly Leatherwood, Chief of Staff, Vice President for University Communications Robin Oliver and marketing and Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayers. 

“What we wanted to do as a President's Council is make sure we be as transparent as possible,” Gonzalez said. “There shouldn't be things that the campus doesn't know about, and often we meet every week.”

She also mentioned how excited she feels to see students with their families after commencement.

“For those of us in the university, commencement is like your reward for a job well done,” Gonzalez said. “We had almost 1,200 graduates come across the stage, and it was just remarkable.”

The president concluded her report by asking the board to contact her with anything they have questions about or would like to improve.

“When we bring things forward and feel like you're more in the know,” she said. “Please let us know that because all of us will present that material and get that material to you.”

Elizabeth Talaga, Paige Fisher, Emily Stokes and Donovan Hunt contributed to this report




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