Feb. 22, 2011
Progress at Shawnee State University means continued growth. As it celebrates its 25th anniversary as a four-year university, Shawnee State remains focused on the future and what continued growth means for its students, faculty, staff and the community.
"We have experienced tremendous growth in recent years," Dr. Rita Rice Morris, President of SSU, said. "That growth has helped us continue to develop programs that benefit our students and our community. Our focus is to continue moving forward and we are taking the steps necessary to keep the momentum that we have going."
This past year, SSU experienced record-breaking enrollment for both fall and spring semesters, with more than 4,600 students enrolled in the fall. These enrollment figures translated to more than a 6 percent growth in enrollment for SSU over the last year.
"This growth is the result of tremendous efforts by our faculty and staff to continue to build and promote our academic reputation, to attract more students to SSU, and to provide the types of college experiences that will make them want to stay at SSU through graduation," Morris said. "We've added programs, improved facilities and enhanced student life. Our recruitment and marketing efforts have been expanded and we are attracting more students from central and northern Ohio, the western part of the state, and Kentucky counties bordering the river."
The overall growth in enrollment at SSU this year includes increases in undergraduate students and graduate students. With the success of both the Master of Occupational Therapy program and the Master of Education program, the number of graduate students increased this year by 25.4 percent.
The majority of SSU students, 61.6 percent, come from the southern Ohio region including Scioto, Lawrence, Adams, Jackson, and Pike counties. Areas that showed substantial growth over last year include the Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Kentucky markets.
"We're reaching out more – extending our marketing efforts," Morris explained. "We don't take enrollment increases for granted. We know what has gone in to building our campus and what it will take to overcome the challenges that threaten our ability to continue to grow. Our sustained growth is vital to our ability to remain fiscally sound, to protect jobs, and to contribute to our regional economy."
Morris said that a number of economic factors make continued growth a challenge. The number of families needing financial assistance is greater, while federal and state aid to students is shrinking and tuition costs are rising. The number of high school students in Ohio is also declining.
"Our families are challenged to find ways to pay for college," she said. "As a university president, that is what is foremost on my mind at all times. A vital part of our mission is to make higher education accessible to the students of our region, and we take that mission very seriously. We're entering challenging times with our state budget deficit and current economic climate. Our recent growth and our efforts to sustain that growth have helped better position us to meet the challenges ahead, and we plan to continue moving forward."
Morris said that the request to close 3rd Street is a part of the University's efforts to continue to grow.
"It's about allowing us to go to the next step," she said. "Our growth over the last 25 years has always been in partnership with our community. We are counting on that partnership to continue moving forward. The need for developing a cohesive campus environment was identified as being vital to our ability to attract more residential students. Closing 3rd Street was identified during our planning in 2007 with the city and community as a way for us to accomplish that goal. We can't move forward without it, or an acceptable alternative plan. What we do here now is just as important for the next 20 years as it is for us today. This is a discussion we plan to continue with our community."
In the past year, Shawnee State University did move forward – in the areas of academic programming, athletics and student life.
This winter, the Ohio Board of Regents recognized Shawnee State University as a Center of Excellence in Immersive Technology, which includes SSU's programs in digital simulation and gaming, the new state-of-the-art Motion Capture Studio, and SSU's developing Immersive Technology and Arts Commercial Center. The Center will provide internships, career and business opportunities for students and graduates, and is designed to help attract business to the region.
"We have high hopes for this field and these programs," Morris said. "We are seeking grants and developing partnerships to help us build the infrastructure to maximize the use of our Motion Capture Studio. This is an industry that shows great promise for the future. We are beginning to graduate students from these fields who are looking to create their own businesses. We want to give them the resources they need to set-up here in southern Ohio."
Two new degrees were approved for SSU this year, a Bachelor of Individualized Studies and Bachelor of Philosophy and Religion. New degree proposals are in the works for a Bachelor's in Political Science and Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
To make the "business of being a student" easier and more convenient, SSU opened the new Student Business Center on the second floor of the University Center last year, combining Financial Aid and the Offices of the Registrar and Bursar into one convenient location for students. This was the first LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified remodeling project on campus, meaning that the project met the highest standards for being environmentally-friendly. All demolished materials were recycled and the use of water and energy-efficient fixtures were used throughout the new area. This is one of a number of ways that SSU has "gone green" in recent years. The use of a geothermal system, for instance, is allowing the University to cool the new University Center, with 45,000 additional square feet, and the Advanced Technology Center with less energy consumption than before.
Shawnee Turf was also completed last year, providing recreational space for intramural activities and providing a home to SSU soccer. The Turf, planned and paid for through a partnership with students, features an all-purpose synthetic field and is located on the east side of campus.
Also, as part of growth in athletic programs, SSU moved to the NAIA Mid-South Conference last year. This move helps SSU athletics continue to grow and provides rivals that live closer, reducing student travel time. The program grew in reputation last year, as well, with several of its coaches gaining state and national attention. Coach Robin Hagen-Smith, Women's Basketball, was inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame last year and will be inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame this spring. Coaches Ralph Cole, Softball, and Kristy Kamer, Volleyball, each earned last year's AMC Coach of the Year for their respective sports.
With the growth in housing and student population, SSU also made changes to several offices and services through the year, adding faculty positions, appointing a student ombudsperson from academics, creating a Dean of Students position, and enhancing the role of Security to a Department of Public Safety.
As the University continues moving forward, Morris said, it will pause for a moment to acknowledge the accomplishments of the past 25 years and spotlight how those accomplishments continue to shape the future.
"As we celebrate our 25th anniversary this year, we will celebrate the past but remain focused on the future," Morris said. "We have much work ahead – on the state and federal level as we look at ways to improve access and support for students. We believe in the power of education in changing lives and the role that higher education plays in shaping our society. This year will be an opportunity for us to spotlight those ways and to demonstrate to our neighbors, families, and community the impact that Shawnee State University has on our daily lives. In the 1980's, many people of our region invested in higher education by supporting the creation of Shawnee State University. We plan to show them what a good investment they made."