Highlights from the Conversation with the Chancellor

November 8, 2023

At the Nov. 2 event, Chancellor Grasso discussed enrollment, budget, campus planning, student support and more.

VC Ken Ketternbeil and Chancellor Grasso sitting on stage
Chancellor Domenico Grasso, right, and Vice Chancellor Ken Kettenbeil discuss the increase of faculty-led research funding at the university.

Fall on the Dearborn campus means three things: beautiful trees, cider doughnuts and a Conversation with the Chancellor. This year’s event took place on Nov. 2. It was a relaxed dialogue – no PowerPoints! – between Chancellor Domenico Grasso and Vice Chancellor for External Relations Ken Kettenbeil. And no, for those who have been asking, the pair did not rehearse. While the repartee was easygoing, the matters discussed were significant, and included observations about enrollment, budget, campus planning and student support. Below are some key takeaways. You can also watch a replay of the event on the university’s YouTube channel.

Attraction and retention is everybody’s job

The year’s entering class set a record with the highest number of incoming first year students in the history of the university. We also saw an increase in our incoming transfer students. The four-year graduation rate is on the upswing as well, increasing 5% this year and 3% last year. Grasso credited these improvements to the supports the university is putting in place to help our students get to the finish line faster. 

Despite the good news, we have not closed the enrollment gap. Our retention rate hovers around 60% percent and we're losing about 40% of our students that don't finish. Some of those students transfer to other schools. Grasso says he wishes them well but, at the same time, we have to make a case for why they should stay here. Everyone on campus can play a role, Grasso emphasized. “Whether you are student facing or not, if you are out there mowing the lawn or repairing a light fixture and a student walks by looking confused, you can ask them if they need help finding someplace,” he said. “As a team, I think that we can help our students feel like this is where they want to be over any other place if we all feel that we are contributing to their success.”

Students leaving the university – either because they transfer to another school or stop out altogether – has a serious fiscal impact: the university loses about $7 million a year on students who don't return. Coupled with students graduating faster – a good thing educationally but a hit financially – this poses a serious challenge.

As a result of not closing the enrollment gap, coupled with rising health care costs, the university will be running in the red this year. Still, following a cautious 1% salary increase for staff last summer, everyone will receive another modest increase, with $1500 added to base pay.

Student support is fundamental

Noting that student success is his number one priority, Grasso hailed the launch of a Student Needs Survey to quickly assess areas of insecurity where the university can intervene immediately. The survey is modeled after a similar one at Amarillo College in Texas. There, the university blocks access to students’ accounts until they fill the survey out. Grasso noted that, in the interest of identifying all students who need immediate assistance, UM-Dearborn is testing a similar approach. 

Grasso also offered accolades to Associate Provost for Experiential Learning and Graduate Curriculum Maureen Linker and the “More than a Single Story” digital storytelling project she leads. “This is another way that helps separate us and define us on this campus, having our students be self-reflective about who they are and their identity, purpose, and objectives in their lives,” said Grasso. “I think that when they do that, they will become more successful.”

Creating a 21st Century Commuter Campus

Campus is in need of upgrades, but the university does not receive a lot of capital support from the state. A new master planning process is underway to help the university be efficient and effective in the physical use of our resources. This includes a close look at Fairlane Center. Grasso announced that he has tasked Chief Information and Strategy Officer Carrie Shumaker with convening a task force to look at the future of Fairlane Center. The goal of the task force will be to identify what is in the best interest of students and of the faculty – with one important subtext: can we afford it?

Plans are moving forward to update the Renick University Center, the Mardigian Library and the common space in between them. This effort is a key part of Grasso’s goal to make UM-Dearborn stand out as a 21st-century commuter campus. “We do need a front door to the university, a place where we can start our tours, a place where students feel that they have a ‘living room’ on campus,” Grasso said. “When the students come here, I want them to feel that this is their home away from home.” 

Other highlights:

  • Research expenditures increased to over $10 million this year. Last year, they were $7 million.
  • Media placements are up significantly, drawing increased attention to our faculty experts.
  • While the cyberattack last August upended the start of the school year on all three campuses, UM-Dearborn weathered the challenge well, with faculty and staff pulling together to ensure a smooth first day of classes.

“We're firing on all cylinders here,” stated Grasso “ And we've got data to prove it.”

Article by Kristin Palm