By Tim Leeds
Another academic year wrapped up for Montana State University-Northern Saturday with the graduation of the Class of 2000, and Chancellor Mike Rao sees bright things ahead for the institution.
Rao said in a recent interview he's concerned that the focus right now might be on what the university has lost through program review rather than how MSU-Northern is already moving ahead and how it can continue to move ahead. He said what he sees is a very talented faculty and staff in place at the university who really are doing good things for the region, and will continue to do so.
He said while the university faces challenges, he believes they will be overcome.
Rao said with the assets and resources invested in the university by the state and by the support and investment of the region, its future will undoubtedly be just as bright and important to the lives of people in its region as anyone could imagine, despite its challenges.
"I believe in Montanans," Rao said. "I believe they have proven in the last 100 or more years that they can build anything from very meager means and find ways to make the best of any situation. MSUN is no exception."
Rao said revisions to the recommendations for program review, made in close collaboration with MSU-Northern's faculty and students and with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, have been submitted to the Board of Regents of Higher Education. These revisions include continuing the biology program and maintaining the electronics engineering tech program for another year before phasing it out to be replaced by a computer engineering technology program.
In his "Update 11," posted on the university's web site, Rao thanked the members of the campus community for keeping the university's expenditures within budget. The budget has been decreasing in recent years due to accumulated small enrollment declines, but Rao, along with the faculty and staff, have succeeded in his refusal to overspend.
"I am encouraged that MSUN, as an institution and team, is managing within its resources," Rao wrote in his update. "That's a more important message than anything about fiscal crisis. The term crisis applies more when appropriate actions have not been taken and the institution overspends. We're not doing that."
Rao's wrote in the update that current marketing and recruiting efforts have succeeded in doubling the prospect pool for the university, although the application pool is level with last year's. In the update he said telemarketing has been very successful.
"Tele-counselors have made 7,073 calls and have been instrumental in getting 42 students to apply to MSUN," he wrote. "The recruiting and tele-counseling staff has been helping to dispel the rumors across the state that MSUN is closing it's doors. They have also been an encouragement to prospects that were impacted by program review. These cultivation efforts will continue throughout the summer and will hopefully improve the number of applications."
A new technical center and improvements to existing facilities is planned for the university in the near future. In the interview, Rao said this will be a definite benefit for the institution.
"It will help the institution make its transition in program areas that are still in demand," he said, "and provide them with the resources they need as four year tech programs."
A proposal for a new psychology program has been drafted which will be presented to the regents for approval. Rao said this program is very attractive to students nationwide and expects it to be a strong new component of the university if approved.
The university is moving forward in its goal to receive accreditation from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. Dr. Stephen Sylvester, the dean and chair of the college of arts and sciences and one of the NCATE coordinators at the university, said this will give graduates of the education department accreditation on a nation-wide status rather than the state accreditation currently offered.
The electronics engineering technical program recently received national accreditation. Lloyd Stallkamp, professor in the department, said the program's two-year degree has recently been accredited by ABET, which is the top accreditation for technical programs. He said they will now work on accrediting the four-year degree.
Rao and Stallkamp have both said the computer engineering technology program proposed to replace this program will make it more attractive to new students and its graduates more marketable.
The institution's vocational education degree will be replaced with an applied technology degree, with both teaching and non-teaching options. A master of science in adult learning and training will be proposed to replace the master's of education with on option in vocational education.
Dr. Korinne Tande, dean of the College of Education, said this program will make graduates much more attractive than the old program, both to industry and to high schools as teachers.
Many of the university's programs are continuing with strong success. Greg Clouse of the Ag Mech Tech department said their program is so successful, with more than 200 students majoring in the programs, company reps still have a hard time finding enough students to hire. He said many of the students already have high-paying jobs lined up before they graduate, even before companies come looking for prospects.