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Freshman retention and four- and five-year graduation rates continue to trend upward at Eastern Kentucky University, according to a report presented at a regular meeting of the EKU Board of Regents on Monday, June 20.

Dr. Laurie Carter, executive vice president and University counsel, reported that approximately 74.3 percent of last fall’s freshman cohort are expected to return this fall, based on a preliminary June 1 “snapshot” of new, first-time, four-year, degree-seeking students (final numbers will be available this fall). A decade ago, the freshman retention rate was approximately 63 percent.

Meanwhile, the four-year graduation rate has increased to approximately 30 percent for the Fall 2012 freshman cohort, up considerably from 15.7 percent for the 2006 freshman cohort and 23.28 percent for the 2010 cohort. Similarly, the five-year graduation rate is projected to be 46 percent for the Fall 2011 freshman cohort, up from 32 percent for the 2006 cohort.

Also at the meeting, the Board heard a report from a representative of Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company, the firm engaged to assist the University with its master plan. Keith Storms said HEWV set out not to merely update the previous plan, but “start afresh,” adding that a final report will be presented to the Board at a later meeting.

Storms said the plan, the product of more than 60 meetings with campus and community leadership and focus groups, reflects EKU’s strategic goals related to academic excellence, commitment to student success, institutional distinction, financial strength, campus revitalization and service to community and region.

Among the goals of the plan, he said, are to strengthen the campus residential experience, thereby enhancing student retention, and create a “vibrant, heavily connected, walkable community” that encourages student engagement. “The plan will maximize existing campus infrastructure to accommodate growth, plan for sustainable systems to anticipate growth, steward the rich heritage of the University, and celebrate the campus’ unique sense of place,” according to the executive summary.

It also calls for an environment of social and physical sustainability, enhanced connections with the City of Richmond and more public-private partnerships for housing, recreation, athletics and health.

Several specific features of the plan coincide with campus revitalization initiatives already underway or in planning stages, such as a new recreation center, a new dining facility, renovated student union, new parking garage, new residence halls, a pedestrian bridge linking north and south campuses, the elimination of traffic from the core of campus, more bicycle paths, and much more. The new recreation center and student union are financed by a student fee, and two new residence halls and a new parking garage are part of a recently announced public-private partnership that involves no state appropriations.

In his report, President Michael Benson announced a soon-to-be-finalized $37 million contract with Aramark that will finance the construction of a new dining facility. More details will be announced soon on the facility, which is expected to open by Spring 2018.

The recent public-private partnerships and the investment by Aramark signal that the outside parties “like the direction we’re headed and can sense our momentum,” Benson said.

“This is a major step that helps transform our campus,” added Board Chair Craig Turner.

At its special meeting in May, the Board approved meal plan costs for 2016-17 that range from $300 to $2,050 per semester depending on plan choice.

Also at its June 20 meeting, the Board approved an overall 2016-17 operating budget of $355,770,061.

“The fact the University went through an adjustment a couple of years ago has helped us face the challenge” of a 4.5 percent cut in state appropriations for 2016-17 and the following year, said Janet Craig, chair of the Board’s Finance and Planning Committee.

The Board will hold a special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 18.