Friday, May 18, 2012

FSU Represented at Congressional Testimony About Veterans’ Education Benefits

On April 27, President Obama signed Executive Order 13607, which sets new rules for how institutions that receive military and veterans' education benefits recruit students, track student-learning outcomes and disclose financial information.

Earlier this week, I spoke to the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs about Executive Order 13607. You can watch the hearing at this link.

I spoke on behalf of Frostburg State University and and AASCU (the American Association of State Colleges and Universities), of which FSU is a member.  

You can read my testimony below:

Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee. I am Dr. Jonathan Gibralter, President of Frostburg State University in Maryland.  I am testifying on behalf of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, commonly known as AASCU, which represents over 400 public institutions and university systems.  Thank you for holding this hearing. I would also encourage Members to view the written statement for further detail and explanation.

Frostburg serves the majority of veterans and active military connected to our region’s National Guard and Reserve units. The number of veterans we serve varies significantly from year to year. Our growing online programs, in particular our accredited MBA and new Bachelor of Science in Nursing, are proving popular with veterans since they are designed for flexibility. 

AASCU, which also serves as the administrative agent for the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC), supports the intent of the issued Executive Order.  Our nation’s veterans and military personnel should be able to obtain quality information about institutions and their programs.  AASCU and its member institutions, including my own campus, value the perspective and experience that service members and veterans bring to our institutions.  As such, we take our commitment to providing them a quality educational experience very seriously.

As the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and over 2 million troops are withdrawn from those areas, more and more veterans will be arriving on college campuses to use the educational benefits they have earned serving our country. In addition, our active-duty military are combining service to the country with higher education.

The text of the Executive Order, as written, raises a number of concerns for AASCU institutions regarding implementation.  Those of us “on the ground” are also most aware of the human issues of the individuals we work with.  For example, as there is no requirement that students identify themselves as veterans, some choose not to do so, meaning they may be missing out on services we can provide.

The Executive Order requires the Secretaries to “develop a comprehensive strategy for developing service member and veteran student outcome measures that are comparable across Federal military and veterans educational benefit programs.” While AASCU appreciates the order’s statement that “To the extent practicable, the student outcome measures should rely on existing administrative data to minimize the reporting burden on institutions participating in these benefit programs,” there is considerably more burden to finding available data for these outcome measures than meets the eye.

The issues of data definition and collection raised by the Executive Order’s requirement to develop national-level outcome measures become even more significant for institutions. First, the federal government does not collect veterans and military student specific data from institutions. Second, institutions and states vary in their ways of defining veteran and military students based on what data is available to them. Given the complexity of data identification and collection on this topic, higher education institutions will inevitably be asked for data that may or may not be possible to obtain.

This leads to another concern – that of reporting burden and associated cost.  In 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) completed an analysis of the burden placed on institutions to comply with expanded mandatory IPEDS reporting. Among other issues, GAO found that “Schools reported time burdens ranging from 12 to 590 hours, compared with the 19 to 41 hours Education estimated….”  GAO further reported that institutions incurred a total estimated salaries and computer costs of over $6 million. 

The call for specific, comparable outcome measures in the Executive Order would be an expansion of current reporting requirements and may require institutions to incur considerable back-office costs. Given significant cuts to state-level higher education support, combined with ever-expanding reporting requirements on multiple fronts, this cost is not a negligible issue for AASCU institutions. 

Another key concern is the complaint system outlined in the Executive Order that would “create a centralized complaint system for students receiving Federal military and veterans educational benefits to register complaints that can be tracked and responded to.” Instituting a centralized complaint system without first establishing whether an individual has already attempted to resolve their complaint with a university or college’s veterans affairs office or with the SAA representatives is a concern.  Too often complaints rise to the highest level of attention when the resolution resides at the local level.  For example, Frostburg State University is already in high compliance with VA and SAA mandates.  Our Veterans Affairs Office is already on the lowest frequency of SAA and VA audits due to our excellent performance on all previous audits.  

Therefore AASCU strongly suggests that higher education stakeholders have significant input into the conceptualization of this centralized complaint system and its operational processes to ensure that the final complaint mechanism serves all parties truthfully and equitably. 

Finally, as this Executive Order is implemented, AASCU would like to see special attention given to increasing communication and data-sharing by the VA and DoD with higher education stakeholders. As the Post-9/11 GI Bill implementation process has evolved, one consistent frustration on the part of higher education administrators trying to serve their military and veteran students is the lack of consistent, clear, and reliable communication from VA to the higher education community.

In closing, Frostburg State University and other AASCU institutions are eager to continue meeting the needs of our military members and veterans as well as their families. Our experience is that these returning military become solid students and campus leaders. AASCU institutions’ commitment to and recognition of the service of our nation’s servicemembers and veterans mean they strive to provide timely and accurate information to our students.  As such, we support the Administration’s efforts to ensure that servicemembers and veterans can make the best-informed educational choices.

I appreciate this opportunity and look forward to your questions.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What I Shared at USM's Capital Budget Workshop Today

The Committee on Finance of the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents held its annual capital budget workshop today to review and discuss strategic goals and priorities for the system's capital improvement program. I gave the following testimony on behalf of Frostburg State University. The agenda and related materials are available here.

Good afternoon. I want to begin today by thanking Chancellor Kirwan and the Board of Regents for all of your support. Because of you, FSU was able to be included in the system bond that created the renovation of our Lane University Center with student fees several years ago - this is the building where you held your Board meeting a few weeks ago. In addition, the Center for Communications and Information Technology is currently under construction (Tawes Hall is gone) and this new academic building will transform our campus.

If you look at the FSU campus, a campus founded in 1898, you will find that our Performing Arts Center opened in 1993, Compton Science Center opened in 2003, and CCIT will open in 2014. The last academic building opened on our campus prior to that was in 1969 when our enrollment was half of what it is today and the needs of students were quite a bit different. I am here today to discuss three important projects and need your assistance and continued support for each and every one of them. These include a new Education and Allied Health Building, a new 435-bed residence hall and a new University Police headquarters to assure the safety and security of our students.

Let me begin by discussing the Education and Allied Health Building. Our College of Education currently resides in Framptom Hall, a building that was not originally designed to be an academic building (it was a library) and is shared between Education and Business. It was built in 1965 and is technologically insufficient to meet the needs of the 21st century educator and student. We don't even have sufficient office space for our faculty in this building. With the expansion of our education programs, including the offering of our Ed.D., newly approved to accept our first cohort this fall, we desperately need a new building. Since the fall of 2007, undergraduate enrollment in education programs has grown by 6%. With the Ed.D., enrollment will grow even further. In addition, Allied Health is equally important as the baby boomers age and we rely more and more on the health care system. At the current time, our nursing program occupies a single office. Enrollment in this program started at 17, went to 33 and for the fall, it could be as high as 150 students. Simultaneously, we are developing the MSN to meet the demands of higher education by creating nurse educators.

 Now, you might say, this building is already in the CIP so why discuss it. In fact, DBM has our Phase I planning document and we are awaiting their feedback. FSU will have an extremely difficult time in achieving the goals set forth in the USM strategic plan if we continue to educate the future educators of our children in inadequate facilities. We typically don't have difficulty enticing students with the beauty of the mountains of Western Maryland, but let's face it, what is the inducement to come to Western Maryland to be educated in less then adequate academic facilities? So, to answer the question you are asking about why I bring this to your attention, it is because this building was originally in the CIP for planning and design in 2015-2016 and construction in 2017-2018. Last year, it was moved to planning and design in 2018 and construction in 2019 and 2020. That means this building would open eight years from now and that just isn't acceptable to me and shouldn't be to you either.

 As I discuss this project, I hear the following said over and over: "too bad Cas Taylor is no longer Speaker of the House because FSU got so much support when he was in that position." And it is true, we did, and during his tenure we got the Performing Arts Center and Compton Science Center  But Cas, while still a great friend and supporter of FSU, is no longer the Speaker of the House and I look to you all for your support. That is where this all begins and ends frankly-with your support and your willingness to make the capital projects at FSU as much a priority as any other USM campus. I met with several of you this past year to discuss FSU's capital needs and your support was exceptional. The Chancellor has stated that we are so fortunate that we were able to secure additional capital projects in the CIP this session. Well, not one of these went to FSU. Isn't there some way to move projects along at FSU so our next building doesn't open in the next decade?

Secondly, last year I presented to you a market research study conducted for a new residence hall that would increase our capacity by 435 beds. You supported this project and we have spent the year working with Mark Beck and Bob Page on the pro forma for this project. At the current time, we are determining whether this could be a system-funded project or a public private partnership. I am personally very happy that the system is including Towson and Salisbury in the bond to expand their residence hall capacity because they need it. I only ask that the project at FSU be in the front of your minds in the future as you consider the debt capacity of the system next year as we discuss this project further.

Finally, I want to speak to you today about my request for a new university police headquarters. As you know, our off campus community houses almost 2,000 students in a student neighborhood with very few local residents. These houses, numbering over 800, are typically quite old and in very poor shape. This is, in part, why the justification is so strong for the residence hall. In surveys of the off campus students, many said they would move on campus if there was availability. However, this also provides justification for a new police headquarters. As you know we have had two deaths in 18 months. In response to this, we have signed an agreement with the City of Frostburg that provides us with joint jurisdiction off campus and this appears to be helping. In response to a study done by the BOR about university police accreditation done after the shootings at Virginia Tech, we hired a consultant to review our police force and facility. The existing university police building was originally constructed in 1953, not as a public safety operation, but as an elementary school. The building’s small size (2,500 square feet) and its age have limited the capacity to renovate the building to meet minimum standards. There is no option to construct a women’s locker room, which has not helped the department meet its objective of hiring female officers. 

Sixty-nine standards have been identified which would likely be required of the FSUPD to achieve accreditation. The University Police building itself was determined to pose a significant impediment to achieving 17 of those standards.

As you consider the capital priorities for the USM, I hope you will always keep FSU in the front of your thinking. We have the desire and ability to become an enrollment growth institution for USM and are limited by our residence and academic facilities. We cannot reach our own goals without the support of the USM Board of Regents. Thank you so much for your time.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

FSU Now Offers a Doctorate of Education!

Frostburg State University has received final approval to offer a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, with the first students to begin studies in the fall. This applied doctoral program is FSU’s first, the culmination of more than three years of work by the FSU faculty and administration.

I am thrilled that FSU has been able to take this important step forward. The trend nationally is for comprehensive regional universities to offer applied doctoral degrees. This development puts FSU in the same tier as those other universities nationally.

Required approval for the Ed.D. was received from the FSU Faculty Senate, the University System of Maryland, the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the agency that oversees the University’s accreditation.

I want to personally thank and congratulate Dr. Clarence Golden, Dr. Bill Childs and all of the faculty and staff who assisted with the development of this program—the first of its kind at Frostburg State University. This is truly an historic development for us that will continue to move us along to become a nationally recognized comprehensive university. 

Learn more here.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Relay for Life a Great Success

This weekend FSU’s annual Relay for Life took place at the football stadium. By the time the opening ceremonies kicked off at 6 p.m. there were over 800 people registered for the event, which started with a very moving walk around the track by a group of cancer survivors and then a lap for the survivors and their caregivers. In addition, there was a beautiful dinner for cancer survivors and their caregivers. Once the event started, teams walked for a full 12 hours while having activities to raise additional money. They even got me to hula hoop!!

I received an email from Sarah Kuhn, who is president of Frostburg’s Colleges for Cancer chapter, and a member of the President's Leadership Circle:

"We raised $56,562.74! This is awesome and I never thought we would beat our total from last year. “What's up Docs?” also raised $8,758.73, which is incredible. We still have until August to reach our goal of $60,000, so we will see what happens.”

For those of you who don't know—What's Up Docs is the pre-med society. Dr. Mary Mumper, chair of the FSU Faculty Senate, serves as this group’s advisor.

I am incredibly proud of our University and especially of our students. Relay for Life is an event that they plan for the entire year. They work very hard to make it happen, and you can see how seriously they take it and how successful they have been. My thanks to everyone and anyone who participated in any way. Whether you worked all year, walked all night, or just made a donation online, your efforts are appreciated and might change a person's life, in hopes that people will not have to hear the words, "You have cancer."

Once again, thank you for your outstanding efforts.

Pledges are still being collected to reach the $60,000 goal. To contribute, visit or take donations to the Braddock House, 20 Braddock Road in Frostburg. For more information, call the FSU Office of Leadership and Civic Engagement at 301-687-4210.

Friday, April 20, 2012

WFWM A Wonderful Community Resource

Have you ever thought about how fortunate Frostburg State University and the local community are to have a high quality, professional public radio station like WFWM Public Radio? With both its on-air programming and its many activities out in local community, WFWM enriches the lives of everyone in the Western Maryland area. And it does this 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Here are a few examples of the services that WFWM provides:

  • WFWM offers a wide variety of locally-produced programs that range from classical music, jazz and bluegrass to poetry, drama and news.
  • WFWM is an active supporter of the arts and local arts organizations In fact, WFWM recently won the Community Partner Award from the Allegany Arts Council for its collaboration in support of the arts in our community.
  • WFWM organizes, supports and publicizes dozens of community events each year, including DelFest, the Roots Music Series, Live at the Depot, Saturdays On Broadway and Jazz Appreciation Month concerts to name just a few.
  • WFWM provides FSU students with experiential learning opportunities that help them with future employment. Ryan Wagner, a recent graduate whose first opportunity to do voice work was at WFWM, was recently selected as the “voice of Oriole Park at Camden Yards” and he now makes all public address announcements at the Baltimore Orioles’ home games.
A full one-third of WFWM’s operating costs are covered through the generous support of WFWM listeners. Although the station does receive some grants, including a Community Service Grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, these grants are far from guaranteed In fact, WFWM must maintain a certain level of community support to even qualify for the CPB grant.

Find out how you can help us continue to offer our area the many wonderful programs, activities, music events and news resources WFWM provides by visiting this link.

To learn more about supporting WFWM, call 301-687-4143. Thank you in advance for your support of WFWM and its many contributions to enhancing the quality of life in the Frostburg community.

USM Needs Our Help

I am writing to give you an update on the situation involving the University System of Maryland’s budget and to urge you to once again speak up for higher education in Maryland.

As you may be aware, the Maryland General Assembly adjourned its 2012 session on April 9 without passing the tax legislation and the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA) required to fully fund the operating budget that both houses had agreed upon. Without that legislation, the so-called doomsday budget will go into effect on July 1, which could amount to a direct cut of an estimated $50 million to USM general funds.

You can read more about this situation in a message from USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan here.

There is an expectation that expectation that Gov. Martin O’Malley and the legislative leadership will work out their differences and reconvene to pass the tax legislation and BRFA in a special session. But that is by no means guaranteed, nor is there any assurance, if they do reconvene, that the budget that had previously been agreed to will be enacted.

The University System of Maryland has again activated its Capwiz electronic network to assist you with contacting Maryland legislators. It can be accessed at this link.

We must not be complacent and just expect everything to work out. This is a critical time for our elected leaders to hear your voice. Please urge our elected officials return to Annapolis in a spirit of cooperation and compromise and conclude the unfinished business of the 2012 legislative session.

Thank you, again, for caring about Frostburg and our students.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"I Swim for Bob Day" at FSU

This past Sunday, Frostburg State University celebrated the life of Bob Norr with “I Swim For Bob Day.”

As some of you know, Bob was an FSU junior majoring in Recreation and Parks Management at Frostburg who passed away this past January. Passionate about his future in his chosen degree, he brought vitality, energy and creativity to the classroom, and shared with others his personal zeal for outdoor recreation. Throughout his time at Frostburg, Bob inspired so many people with his kind and selfless actions, so much so that his friends, classmates and Dr. Diane Blankenship, associate professor in Recreation and Parks Management, came together to organize “I Swim for Bob Day,” which, in the spirit of activities Bob loved, included water polo and relays. The event also served as a fundraiser for the Robert A. Norr Presidential Merit Scholarship, which was established in loving memory by Bob’s parents, family and friends.

I wanted to personally thank Dr. Diane Blankenship, associate professor in Recreation and Parks Management, and Bob’s friends and classmates who worked so hard to put this all together. I commend Dr. Blankenship for recognizing the value of sharing this kind of experience with her students, as their educator and mentor, and as someone who made a difference in Bob’s life. And I can’t say enough good things about Bob’s classmate Alex Coleman, Bob’s roommate, Kevin Neitzey, and all of our students who made this event a reality. They amaze me. I also want to express my appreciation to Cherie Krug, Director of Major Gifts and the University Advancement staff. Finally, a heartfelt thank you to Bob’s family, particularly Bob’s parents, Doug and Nancy Norr.

To learn more about supporting this and other scholarships and efforts at Frostburg, check out this link. You may also want to go to the FSU Recreation Society Facebook Page, where they're sharing lots of great pics from the event.