Central Michigan University President George Ross cited reasons for optimism despite troubling enrollment and budget figures at his State of the University address in Plachta Auditorium on Wednesday.
In the midst of a year that saw a 4.9-percent decline in on-campus undergraduate enrollment, Ross used his speech as a way to discuss with the packed audience things that are going right for CMU.
He spent much of his speech commending students, acknowledging academic achievements with a video that featured the deans of each college and Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services Steven Johnson.
“I often think we don’t see ourselves as leaders,” Ross said. ”I think we forget. I think we’re too humble sometimes.”
Ross said that CMU should recognize itself as a national leader in academics in order to pave the way for future success.
He also tried to put the current state of affairs into the context of the history of CMU, citing its growth from a small teaching college to becoming one of the top schools in Michigan.
“Just as we’re moving forward today despite economic challenges, President Charles Anspach took our campus from seven buildings to more than 40,” Ross said. “Those efforts started in 1939 at the end of the Great Depression, lasted throughout World War II and continued until Anspach’s retirement in 1959. We, too, must keep moving forward.”
Ross announced several plans for the university, including restructuring financial aid to include students with a 3.0 GPA and the addition of a living wall, or a vertical garden, to the planned Biosciences Building.
The address came at a crucial time for CMU, allowing Ross to tackle some of the problems causing uncertainty about the condition of the university. Ross wasted no time in bringing up the enrollment issue, dedicating a sizable amount of time to deflating concerns.
“I’ve heard a few people say we have a crisis on our hands,” Ross said. “Folks, that’s simply not true. It is true that enrollment numbers and the budget are issues; that we’re in a cycle we need to manage.”
Ross tried to reassure the audience that things were not as dire as they might seem, claiming many schools in Michigan were suffering similar enrollment declines. He said it was important to decide what the university’s ideal enrollment number should be and expects to announce it later this year.
“We will consider what’s possible next year and what’s possible over the next decade,” he said. “From that, we will set a goal and manage to it, rather than allowing ourselves to suffer the yo-yo effect of enrollments that go up and down.”
He said significant efforts are being made to combat the enrollment problem, saying the enrollment management plan unveiled at September’s Board of Trustees meeting is the most extensive CMU has ever seen.
The address concluded with a set of challenges and more inspirational verbiage, quoting President John F. Kennedy in his closing remarks.
“I’d like to leave you with my favorite quote,” Ross said. “It speaks to how we envision tomorrow, and make it happen. ‘Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.’”