Nervous liberal arts professors. Stagnant enrollment. Costs rising faster than state funding.
These are the challenges Kansas' universities must decide how to handle. And the man making those decisions for Wichita State University is its new president, Jay Golden.
Golden officially took over near the end of 2019, leaving his former position as vice chancellor at East Carolina University. The Kansas Board of Regents chose Golden in October after a long search following WSU President John Bardo's death in March.
Beyond his experience in North Carolina, Golden has owned an engineering services company in Arizona and served as a police officer.
Golden spoke with Stephan Bisaha about Wichita State's future.
Golden on rising education costs:
I'm a parent of a daughter who just graduated state college and another daughter who's in college. I'm an individual who is paying tuition just like the parents of our students here. So I get it.
We have to be more entrepreneurial. We have to do things to find ways to ensure that we're not just doing student fee increases and tuition increases. So we're going to have a big push, as one example, on research. Research, and I'm asking all the faculty that before you finish your proposal, you ensure that students are on those proposals. They could be on there for $2,000 a semester. They can be there for full tuition. That $2,000 could be a big difference whether you attend college or not.
So we have to be entrepreneurial in the way we think and operate as an institution. And then we're going to be doing that from trying to reduce our operating costs to finding new ways and new revenue streams to help college affordability.
On the uncertain future of liberal arts:
The traditional models of higher education as we know them are changing. If any institution believes that they can stay stagnant and not be innovative, those are going to be universities and colleges that aren't going to be around in a number of years.
That doesn't diminish the need for critical thinking. Though a bachelor of arts and sciences provide a lot of critical thinking, which are essential to whether you're in technology or not, I don't see necessarily a demotion of the arts and sciences.
Rather I think arts and sciences like other programs are going to have to retool, rethink to make sure that we're providing the best student experience and opportunities for our students moving forward.
On how to increase enrollment:
We're going to graduate something like 30,000 or so students in Kansas from high school each year for the next few years. But when we talk about magnitude, Texas, for instance, is going to graduate 350,000 students. Big difference. So we're going to be — and I will personally be — working towards attracting talent, high school students from places like Texas, to Wichita.
But not for the sake of just coming here. I want to recruit talent, but I want to retain talent. And to do that, we need to have these academic programs. We need to have a community that embraces and is vibrant. We need a faculty and staff and administrators that are more representative of the diversity that will be coming to our university. So those are all the type of programs that we're going to do.
We're also going to try to continue to ensure from an administrative standpoint that we contain administrative costs so we can have an affordable education. And I'm pushing hard. And I, our faculty and our leadership are all on board, including our deans, that we graduate our students on time.