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'Steward of this region':Positive trends abound early into DSU’s Centennial year

Dr. Tom Mitzel gave his State of the University speech on Friday afternoon. Iain Woessner / The Dickinson Press

There's plenty of cause for optimism at Dickinson State University as the school moves forward on its four-year plan that has seen tuition and enrollment increase. This plan seeks to develop, strengthen and unify the university to increase student retention and enrollment, as well as community connections.

"DSU has been a wonderful steward of this region for 100 years," DSU President Tom Mitzel said. "But this region has been a wonderful support group for the university for that same 100 years."

Described as a "master plan," much of the discussion during the Friday, Jan. 5, State of the University speech was not new information, but had been presented in May, when the "DSU Forward" strategic plan was unveiled. Symbolized by an arrow pointed ahead, DSU Forward breaks down the university's goals into three categories: develop, strengthen and unify.

"This head of this arrow is made up of community members and community spaces," Mitzel said. "We want that arrow to be going in the right direction, and for that arrow to go in the right direction it must be led by community members," Mitzel said. "Our first goal is to develop, programming, infrastructure, resources, to fulfill our mission,"

Toward that goal, Mitzel detailed how the university is developing student living spaces to make them more appealing for students who want to live on campus.

"Part of the appeal for students to want to be on campus is getting them to buy into the campus culture," Mitzel said. "Millennials, what they like to do they like to come together, they like to be in groups ... we have to make them want to be here."

In addition to developing improvements to residence halls, Mitzel noted that the university will be offering certificate programming, a Master of Arts in Teaching and the Department of Business and Entrepreneurship is now the School of Business and Entrepreneurship.

"(With) workforce needs, industrial needs, not every student is going to want to get a BS," Mitzel said. "We have to be able to get them education where they need it, when they need it as well."

Mitzel said he wants to offer more masters programs moving forward, and that the people seeking Master's Degrees are one of the fastest growing groups in the nation. Mitzel said that there's been continued scrutiny of the curriculum to look for opportunities to change.

Other infrastructure development includes progress made on the long-awaited renovations to Woods Hall, which Mitzel said will finish on top and within budget.

"I know there was some frustration among the community on that," Mitzel said. "As you walk by now you'll see the majority of the exterior work is completed."

Mitzel said there are expansions planned on the university's food service programs and that they are looking to increase the hours and offerings of their food services.

Other planned projects include heating, ventilation and cooling work for May Hall and a proposed Centennial Courtyard, which would be located outside of May Hall and provide an outdoor space for students to gather and exchange ideas, Mitzel said. That courtyard would be funded by a grant from the Stark Development Corporation.

"One of the things that has bothered me since being on campus ... (is) you walk out of those buildings, you come out upon a fairly major roadway ... you rarely see anybody outside congregating, talking, discussing ideas," he said. "It's a pass-through area and it shouldn't be a pass-through area. We need a place outside where people can congregate ... somewhere we can celebrate our Centennial as we go forward."

Tuition is trending slightly higher than it was last year, 6.31 percent higher, which Mitzel said gives him cause for optimism.

In keeping with their theme of "strengthen," the university wants to strengthen its recruiting efforts. This year, the university has spent $66,540 granting faculty requests for training or degree completions.

"Whatever degree you've earned is only good for four years unless you continue to grow in that field," Mitzel said. "We have faculty and staff who have been here for decades ... if we need for you to teach our students at the top level, then you need to remain at the top level of your field. That's where we need to help you be able to do that."

Already there are some positive trends—Mitzel noted that enrollment applications are up 39 percent, and have been trending upwards for the past two years, after a sharp decline in 2012. The university also provides scholarships.

"The Heritage Foundation awarded $700,000 in academic and athletic scholarships," Mitzel said. "Two years ago ... (the) foundation had zero assets. They have been able to in both years get over $700,000 in scholarships ... we are extremely proud of that and we'd love for that number to be higher ... that's part of the five year plan."

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, attended the speech and said he liked what he heard from Mitzel.

"They are moving forward," he said. "They've apparently hit the low spots, whether it be enrollment or funding, and we're starting to move up and everything seems well-thought out."

He said he was happy with the direction DSU's leadership is going.

"(Mitzel) has kept legislators up to date on what's going on," Wardner said. "But he added some things here today that he hasn't discussed with us and I appreciate that. Last session was a difficult session and trying to make our case ... to keep DSU funded. I'm talking about keeping the ag program, keeping the nursing program ... cutting those things out of the university would have just been disastrous."

Wardner said he was glad to see Mitzel was looking to recruit more students, as funding for universities is based on enrollment.

The third pillar of DSU's strategy, "unify," is an effort to engage the campus, alumni and community in the university's mission. Part of this is the creation of an athletic council, which Mitzel said will help athletes feel more integrated with the student body.

"On a campus like this, sometimes the athletes feel a little bit segregated from the rest of the student body and we don't want that to happen," Mitzel said. "We have a very strong student center ... and now we have something on the athletic side as well."

The university has also begun distributing print and online publications and refurbished their website in an effort to be more accessible to the community.

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