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“We are all recruiters, we are all retainers, and we are all ‘graduators.’”

That was the message from Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson at his yearly convocation address to employees Tuesday.

Benson spoke at EKU’s Center for the Arts to hundreds of faculty and staff members, updating them on the status of campus revitalization projects and offering them a glimpse at his priorities as construction and renovation projects wind down. Those priorities include increasing enrollment and refocusing on student success.

These areas have always been top priorities for the university, but they are especially important with the implementation of performance-based funding. This new system appropriates state funding to Kentucky universities based on key metrics such as student retention and graduation rates.

“As an institution, we need to have laser-like focus. We need to be well-positioned – now and moving forward – to take advantage of this new model,” Benson said.

Data shows EKU is already ahead of the game on many important metrics. The president shared some key data with attendees.

Freshman retention rate, a measure of first-time, full-time freshman enrollment, rose from 63 percent to 75 percent since fall of 2007.

  • EKU’s four-year graduation rate has nearly doubled since 2011.
  • EKU’s six-year graduation rate has increased by more than 6 percent in six years.
  • EKU awarded 700 more degrees and certificates in the 2015-16 school year than six years prior.

“We are one of only two or three institutions that finished in the green,” Benson said. “We got a net increase. But that’s based on our most recent performance, and we have to keep that going.”

One important way to do that is through one-on-one interaction, he said. Benson noted that there have been 12,000 visits in one year to the new Student Success Center, where students receive peer-to-peer support on everything from coursework to financial aid.

“That’s an enormously good investment,” he said.

Benson also shared status updates on the construction projects underway on campus and other news of note.

Construction Projects

  • Construction on the new North and Martin Halls was completed less than two years after the old halls were demolished. “That is a remarkable feat,” Benson said.
  • Approximately 1,600 new parking spots have opened on campus in recent years, with 325 more to come with the opening of the new parking garage Oct. 15.
  • The new Case Dining Hall will open in January.
  • Demolition of the Greek Towers is expected to be complete by the end of this week. The site will be home to the new Student Recreation Center, expected to open in fall of 2019.
  • Construction will begin soon on a new pedway across Eastern Bypass near Alumni Coliseum.

Other News

  • Student athletes posted an average GPA of 3.09, the second-highest spring semester in EKU’s history.
  • EKU’s popular Game Design program was ranked 47th in the world by Princeton Review.
  • Private donors gave a University-record $22 million to EKU over the last three years.
  • The Summer Energy Savings Plan reduced electricity use by 16,000 kWh per day in June, equivalent to taking 37 Richmond homes off the grid.
  • EKU became the only Kentucky university to win the Minority Access Award for six consecutive years.
  • Two EKU professors became Fulbright Scholars – Dr. Ginny Whitehouse and Ron Smith.

Benson closed the convocation by reiterating that each faculty and staff member can improve student success through one-on-one attention. He told the story of Dr. Stan Taylor, chairman of the political science department at Brigham Young University, where Benson was an undergrad. Despite his obligations as an author, chairman and professor, Taylor always made time for Benson.

“I’ll never forget the impact that Stan Taylor had on my life, and I know you’ll have that same impact on your students’ lives,” he said. "I encourage you this year to put things aside for students, don’t be distracted, and make a difference.”