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Innovation, legislation and renovation front and center at Board meeting

Learn about learning assistants, collaboration on campus and at the Capitol and more from last week’s session.

By Matt Watson

February 13, 2019

Board of trustees members in a meetingMetropolitan State University of Denver’s Board of Trustees convened Feb. 7-8 for two days of meetings highlighting innovative programs and partnerships, as well as updates on the state legislature and budget.

Learning Assistants Program spotlight

Several MSU Denver students spoke glowingly to the Board about a campus initiative that’s improving student outcomes and supporting faculty in a cost-efficient manner.

Learning assistants are students who facilitate groupwork and discussion in classes they have already taken and passed; they’re paid to mentor their peers and get course credit for taking pedagogy class. The program began in 2016 as a pilot in a few sections of college algebra with dramatic results: Students in sections with an LA scored on average 5 percentage points higher on final exams from 2016-17, with drop rates 14 percentage points lower over the same period.

“Why do we want to talk about the Learning Assistants Program? Because it works,” said Brooke Evans, the professor of math leading the program. “It works for student retention, student involvement and student learning outcomes.”

The cost of the program, less than $45 per student impacted (more than 2,500 in spring 2019), pales in comparison to the potential revenue lost by students dropping out, which is far more likely for students who don’t pass or withdraw from a class.

There’s also a tremendous benefit for the learning assistants themselves: a job on campus that pays and leadership experience that translates to the job market. Brianna Darnell, an elementary education major, said the program has taught her a lot about teaching, lessons she is applying in her field experience in local schools.

“It’s so easy to show someone the right way to do things that’s in your brain, but that’s not the right way for everybody. The best part about this program is about taking individual students’ thinking, enhancing it and supporting it, and helping students problem-solve and learn who they are as a thinker,” Darnell said.

“You get something that goes on your transcript that shows you have learned how to educate another individual in something,” said Ryan Comeaux, a mechanical engineering major. “The process of teaching is universal – It doesn’t matter whether you’re teaching someone how to make a pizza, which I did for 10 years before coming to school, or learning how to use the Pythagorean theorem to solve a basic triangle problem.”

The student testimonials were followed by a strong endorsement from MSU Denver President Janine Davidson, Ph.D.

“This is serious ROI. If we want to move the needle on retention, these are the kinds of things we need to scale,” Davidson said.

Show me the money

MSU Denver’s allocation in the proposed state budget under consideration by the Joint Budget Committee includes an increase of $7 million in state funding, but that falls short of the projected $9.2 million budget increase needed to keep up with MSU Denver’s mandatory costs, assuming flat enrollment. That number doesn’t include additional budget needed to invest in wraparound student services and career-based learning initiatives.

MSU Denver is lobbying to change the state funding formula to prioritize institutions that serve low-income students, starting with a heavier weight placed on Pell eligibility, as well as institutions that serve more students from underrepresented populations and a higher percentage of Coloradans.

Will Simpkins, vice president for Student Affairs, said the funding formula should reflect the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s master plan, whose goals align well with the mission of MSU Denver.

“The master plan is a well-thought out, reasoned blueprint for how Colorado can be competitive, not just in higher ed outcomes but in workplace outcomes,” he said. “The Colorado Workforce Development Council just put out a report called ‘Talent Pipeline’ about the state of workforce development in Colorado. When you read that report and the master plan for higher education, the exact themes that we have said over and over at MSU Denver are reiterated.”

Christine Staberg, a member of the University's government relations team, said that in addition to advocating for changes to the funding formula, we’re tracking 41 bills that could affect MSU Denver, an additional 42 bills in the K-12 space and an $18.5 million request for AHEC facilities maintenance that has strong support so far.

Update on enrollment

Fall enrollment projections revealed that Full-Time Equivalency, or FTE, is down 1.1 percent compared to the same time in spring 2018, despite a spike in applications.

Colorado’s free application netted 2,000 applications in one day, about as many as MSU Denver usually gets in one month, while the University’s partnership with EAB Enrollment Services has expanded our recruiting pool as well. The influx in applications didn’t come with an increase in full-time staff to review those applications, however, so there have been delays in processing times. Simpkins said MSU Denver is about a year away from implementing an auto-admit system that accepts students almost instantly based on self-reported information.

“It’s a technology question,” Simpkins said. “It will revolutionize the way we’re able to do admissions.”

What’s happening with the Health Institute

Major steps in the creation of a physical Health Institute took place in January, when MSU Denver hired Anderson Mason Dale Architects and began holding committee meetings to execute the program plan. The architects have already begun site visits and cost modeling, while the committees have identified priorities for the building as classroom space, simulation and lab space, clinical spaces and possible public-private partnerships such as urgent care, office space and vendors.

Jenn Capps, dean of the College of Professional Studies, is also working with the Colorado Health Foundation on a grant to support students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who aren’t eligible for the federal funding provided to MSU Denver’s Health Careers Opportunity Program by the $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Service Administration.

PE/Events Center renovations

Renovations to the PE/Events Center approved at the December Board meeting are moving forward with a November completion target and cost savings before the renovations begin.

The University secured a 2.68 percent fixed interest rate after rates decreased from over 3 percent between the time the Board approved the debt issuance and when the state approved the project.

The design phase kicked off in December with architect Perkins+Will, with construction set to start in May and end by Nov. 1.

Positive partnerships

The Finance Committee heard presentations on two partnerships that could prove to be long-term sources of revenue and innovation for MSU Denver.

Nate Grimm, deputy budget director, briefed the committee on the sustained success of HLC@Metro Inc., the nonprofit operating the Hospitality Learning Center and Marriott SpringHill Suites as a public-private partnership. Many of the hotel’s operational metrics have plateaued in recent years after rapid initial growth, but when benchmarking against an oversaturated hotel market in Denver, the revenue per available room has increased every year relative to the industry, and guest-satisfaction scores are off the charts, Grimm said.

The SpringHill Suites are undergoing a Marriott-required seven-year refresh, expected to be completed by next January at no cost to the University. HLC@Metro Inc., which transferred $2 million to the MSU Denver Foundation in 2016, is funding the renovations out of its reserves and is even involving MSU Denver industrial-design students in some of the design work.

George Middlemist, associate vice president for administration/CFO and interim president for administration, followed with revised financial projections on MSU Denver at DIME, which recently completed renovations at its space on Kalamath Street and is expected to turn profitable by 2021.

Finance Committee members expressed enthusiasm for the potential of DIME Denver, which is moving from Music Department oversight to Innovative and Lifelong Learning, while MSU Denver and DIME are examining strategies for DIME success and have commissioned a market study ahead of a series of campus events in April.

All aboard with Advancement

In her first appearance in front of the Board, Christine Márquez-Hudson, who joined MSU Denver as vice president of University Advancement in November, passed out the first iteration of the Advancement playbook to trustees. The playbook will be a living internal document that identifies University fundraising priorities, making it easier to quickly connect donors to top needs, while also better demonstrating the impact of gifts in those areas.

Márquez-Hudson and her team have developed an 18-month plan to implement infrastructure and collaboration within the University, including fundraiser training for academic deans, chairs and others, to develop a culture of philanthropy and momentum leading up to next year’s Strategic Plan 2025 rollout.

She also announced the discontinuation of the University’s annual summer soirée event in favor of more targeted, mission-oriented events around fundraising priorities such as the Health Institute and C2 Hub.

Academic-program updates

The Board approved a new concentration in facility management under the Bachelor of Arts in construction-project management, as well as two new graduate certificate programs: dietetic internship and STEMpath cybersecurity.

The discontinuation of all concentrations within the human-development major was also approved by the Board. Enrollment in human development has declined since 2014, when Colorado passed a law to permit students to major in education, removing the need for future educators to go through a content-specific major. The Department of Psychology is reworking the curriculum to better serve human-development majors for other careers working with children and families.

Board of Trustees business meetings are open to the public. You can also listen to audio of the entire meeting on the trustees’ website.

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