President Sherilyn Emberton, Ed.D., gave a campus update to faculty and staff Sept. 10. She addressed this year’s goals for the university as well as updates regarding renovations for the Huntington Union Building (HUB) and Habecker Dining Commons (DC).
Emberton, now in her second year as president of the institution, said the financial state of the university is “much stronger than last year” thanks to a more “realistic budget.”
“I feel a lot more encouraged as the president of the institution,” she said. “Our budget is much more manageable. We moved money around to areas that were underfunded and then some of the areas that historically could work with lesser budgets; we asked them to do that so we could fund some opportunities in other areas – so far so good. We’ve been able to do some new things around here … but we’ve had to tighten our belt to do that.”
She said the university’s debt is “less than $9 million” and will “position us well to move forward.”
Emberton praised the enrollment team after it was revealed that the university’s enrollment is up eight percent thanks in part to the new occupational therapy doctorate program in Fort Wayne, Ind. Undergraduate enrollment by itself is up three percent with 977 students currently enrolled for the fall, according to the university’s press release.
“I really want to celebrate our enrollment team,” she said. “We talked about where we hit the mark and some areas we want to improve in. We talked about how enrollment numbers are one thing, but there will be a point where we look at how all that impacts the budget [in October].”
Emberton revealed the top ten goals for the university, including transforming the HUB back into a student center. Currently, the top half of the building is for food service and offices while the bottom half houses the bookstore and admissions office.
“We’re beginning to put a fee to what that might look like,” she said. “We’re beginning to have conversations with people that will help us do that. Our plans start this year … We all know that’s a priority. Students know it, I know it, the board knows it.”
The entire building will be renovated, and admissions will have a new location.
The university is still looking to install a proper coffee shop in the upper HUB. Currently, Sodexo has a new espresso and coffee machine that has been met with mixed reviews, Emberton said.
“It didn’t come off the way we wanted it to,” she said. “We did some behind the scenes things to make sure that gets improved in a heartbeat. That was supposed to be a temporary solution to something we wanted to do permanently when we renovate … It disappointed us … That should’ve been a nice place where you go and hang and the coffee stuff works.”
Sodexo is working on having a trained barista whenever the HUB is open as well as a new card-swiping system. Currently, there is one register for both lines at Pandini’s and Sub Connection.
Emberton also said the university is discussing renovating the Habecker Dining Commons.
“A priority issue for us is to update our food service quality and the facility,” she said. “We’re really trying to look at what it would take to do that and what is the trade off … We know it would impact some cost, but it’s gotta be worth it.”
Emberton said the lower area “doesn’t flow right” with a larger student body, and that the upstairs needs upgraded as well.
“That’s the front door to our campus for some people,” she said. “We’re looking at what’s the bang for the buck for our students.”
Emberton also revealed the top ten goals for this year that include launching a new agriculture program for students. The program has received a $100,000 pledge and a $20,000 donation and will launch in fall 2015.
“That’s one of the programs we said we’d have to fund up front, and the Lord has provided us that,” she said.
The university also wants to increase faculty and staff salaries and will present a proposal in October to the board of trustees for that.
Emberton also said the Fandana Festival is officially canceled after the university lost $83,000 from last year’s festival. The festival was originally set for a fall 2014 date.
“It wouldn’t work financially,” she said. “Who can afford that? I’m not doing that … Why would we spend that and throw it away? It would make sense if it was bringing us lots of students … but there was never a plan presented to me financially that made sense that it would work. It canceled itself.”
She also said that plans for a potential branch campus in Peoria, Ariz. are slowly progressing after the plans were delayed last year. Jeff Berggren, former vice president of enrollment management and marketing, currently lives near the city and acts as a consultant between the town and the university.
“We have an area we’re still exploring out there,” Emberton said. “It has to do with a more focused couple of programs. We’re going out in October to look at the progress [Berggren’s] made … We’ve picked up a little momentum there, but we’re just knocking on wood until I get there, and we can really see.”
The next official campus update will be after the board of trustees meeting in October.
Jaime Hillegonds and Courtney Olson contributed to this report.