HLC visit and state funding among topics at State of the University address
Southeast President Carlos Vargas touched on renovations, state appropriations, enrollment and the Higher Learning Commission’s September visit among other topics during his annual State of the University address at Academic Hall.
From start to finish, the address lasted just under an hour.
The Tuesday, Oct. 16 address opened with a marketing video highlighting accomplishments from the past year, including the addition of the first unmanned aircraft systems program in the state of Missouri, and the international village.
Among the topics covered, Vargas touched on the Higher Learning Commission’s visit to campus in September. The HLC is the accrediting body for degree-granting institutions.
Although Southeast will not know the results of the visit until March of next year, Vargas said he feels “very confident” with how the visit went.
Vargas also discussed the university’s commitment to employees. This year, university employees saw the first salary increase in two years. Southeast also hired 133 new faculty and staff since last October, according to Vargas.
Campus infrastructure was another item on which Vargas spent a lengthy amount of time. Five renovations and upgrades for the campus were submitted to the state for approval, with costs totaling $83.6 million.
The Art Building, which was shut down in August due to flooding, is among the buildings needing repairs, which cost an estimated $13.6 million. Brandt Hall, Rhodes Hall and Johnson Hall were also submitted for renovations.
The maintenance tunnels cover more than two miles of underground and require an estimated $25 million in repairs. Vargas said $12 million is needed for “most pressing” repairs.
For the last three years, the state has given Southeast around $43.5 million in state appropriations. Before the state’s 3% withholding, that number is $45.88 million for Fiscal Year 2020. Divide that by Southeast’s 8,350 full-time equivalent (FTE) students to calculate a per FTE rate of $5,495. Southeast is about $1,458 below the state average in per FTE and has the third-lowest per FTE rate among Missouri universities.
Since former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens cut state funding for higher education in January 2017, Southeast has seen a reduction in funds, plateauing over the last two years.
Even with the cuts, Vargas feels confident in the direction the university is heading.
“The past couple of years have not been easy,” Vargas said. “However, brighter days are ahead.”
Vargas announced in the past year, 56 grants and awards were awarded to the university and university students, totaling $4,847,943.
Additionally, Vargas touched on the retention and graduation rates, both seeing an increase, with returning first-time, full-time students reaching a record high.
Student retention rates stand at 75.3%, topping the previous all-time mark set in 2016 at 75.1%. The graduation rate now stands at 49.7%, he said.
Southeast’s goal is to reach 80% retention rates and 60% graduation rates, according to Vargas.
The address concluded and was opened to audience questions, but no major topics were brought up for discussion.