August 28, 2012

Dear MSU Community,

Welcome to a new academic year and the many opportunities it promises. This fall, we will see how some of our important initiatives from last year will begin to bear fruit. Additionally, we are in the final stages of approving a new strategic plan, which will serve as a road map for the vibrant future of our institution. And we will benefit from the recommendations received by OpenMSU, a group that has focused on excellent service and support at our university. Many people have participated in these broad and comprehensive conversations, and I thank them for their guidance.

This morning, based largely on those conversations, I want to share with you some important and exciting information about Advancing MSU, a package of big-picture, one-time investments in campus priorities that will be presented to the MSU Budget Council on Tuesday.

MSU is becoming better and stronger than ever before. This fall marks our fifth consecutive year of record-setting enrollments, and we will be closing in on a headcount that is about 20 percent larger than in 2009.

We have been meeting the challenges and opportunities of this growth by making strategic investments in the university through the following:

  • Since July 2011, we have added $4.5 million in base and one-time funding for additional faculty hires and class sections.
  • In the last two years, we have invested $3 million for classroom and ADA renovations in our buildings.
  • Over the past two summers, renovations in the amount of $11 million have been made to our student residence and dining halls. Additionally, we are currently breaking ground on a new 70-bed, suite-style residence hall near North Hedges with a project cost of $7 million.
  • A $9.1 million energy, water and operations efficiency program focused on our auxiliary buildings is expected to reduce costs in those areas by $370,000 annually once it is completed later this fall.
  • Last fall, we inaugurated the grass-roots Strategic Investment Proposal Process where units with a good idea could make a proposal to meet a university need or aspiration. Through that process, 74 proposals were submitted and 16 were funded with the $1.2 million the Budget Council recommended for this process. We look forward to another round of great proposals this fall.
  • Earlier this year, OpenMSU conducted a process whereby hundreds of you participated in surveys and fact-gathering to identify changes that can make MSU more efficient and improve our administrative processes.
  • This semester, we are in the final stages of design for a new building for the College of Business, thanks to a $25 million gift from alumnus Jake Jabs (Class of '52).

This fall, I am proposing we continue to build our future through Advancing MSU, a number of one-time, campus priority investments aimed at benefiting the university and our students by using a portion of our reserve funds. Advancing MSU will allow us to focus on the following goals:

  • Improve student retention and degree completion
  • Help students reduce debt through timely graduation
  • Expand opportunities for faculty and staff
  • Promote efficiency and effectiveness in administrative processes
  • Support the goals of the new MSU Strategic Plan

These investments are a combination of meeting some immediate needs of our students and some long-term needs of the institution and were developed with input from deans, directors of units and vice presidents. Now, I am looking for input from the Budget Council and the university community at large on the following proposals:

Advancing MSU calls for $575,000 to be used to advance our efforts to help our students to stay in school and graduate. Though we have made strides in these areas, 25 percent of our entering freshmen do not return for their sophomore year (an improvement from our loss of almost 30 percent five years ago) and only 50.7 percent will graduate in six years (up from 47.4 in 2007). Given the fact that we take special pride in the quality of our students, faculty and staff, I know we can - and we must - do better.

Another $1.1 million will be used for financial aid for Montana resident students, of which a minimum of $300,000 will be need based. Since the recession, the average amount of debt for our students who borrow to attend school has jumped dramatically by 35.7 percent. Of that group, the average debt is now $25,682 upon graduation, whereas it hovered between $17,000 and $18,000 from 1999 to 2007. I see this investment in financial aid as an important part of meeting our mission to educate the sons and daughters of Montana.

Other direct investments in our students will include: $200,000 to advance our summer school program, create more evening courses and expand our online course offerings; $150,000 to cover the two-year lease cost of the new modular buildings and $100,000 for student collaboration spaces on campus; $80,000 for Native American graduate students in science and engineering; and $30,000 for institutional engagement and outreach activities.

Advancing MSU also includes investments in information technology, administrative streamlining, and faculty and staff. There is $1.2 million for information technology projects that range from enhancements to our research computing infrastructure, to productivity software, to student-advising software for graduate students that will complement our rollout later this fall of the DegreeWorks software for undergraduate advisers.

Thanks to the hundreds of you who participated in the OpenMSU information gathering process, we have identified one very clear, high-return, campus-wide priority: the need to streamline administrative paperwork and processes. As such, we will be investing $200,000 in document imaging and workflow software to pilot a project in one administrative area. We're optimistic the pilot will yield a good return by reducing administrative time and hassle, resulting in more time available for student support. If the pilot is successful, we will consider more funding in this area.

Through conversations with Faculty Senate, Staff Senate and Professional Council, we understand the need for professional development. This proposal includes $225,000 for that purpose. Though a modest sum given that there are roughly 3,000 employees on our campus, it is an important investment that should augment funds currently used for professional development. Another $250,000 will be used for a consultant to review our compensation and classification structure for all employees. We see this as an important first step in achieving our number one legislative priority in 2013 of increasing faculty and staff wages.

There is $125,000 for the Local Government Center, which supplies professional training, consulting, and applied research for Montana's city, county and reservation governments. In the past, the LGC was funded by the Legislature. However, it was not funded in the current biennium. I agreed to provide one-time only support to continue the services of the LGC in FY'12 and FY'13.

Finally, there is $500,000 to help our new deans and chief information officer to jumpstart progress in their units. The fresh viewpoint and new ideas they bring to MSU requires our support, and I'm confident of the benefits that will follow for the entire academic community.

All told, this amounts to roughly $5 million dollars in one-time investments in campus priorities from our Board of Regents approved reserves, which had been set aside for times of growth like what we are currently experiencing. With this proposal, we will still maintain a healthy reserve balance and we will be able to accomplish some important and needed work.

We will take these items before the Montana Board of Regents for spending authority approval during the regent's next meeting in September. However, actual expenditures won't be made until after I have received Budget Council's input both before and after the Regents meeting. That input may lead me to eliminate or delay items from the list, or consider others.

This is just the first of many budgetary considerations coming before the campus. As I mentioned before, this fall we will begin our second year of the Strategic Investment Proposal Process, where units on campus can put forward valuable and impactful ideas.

I look forward to your thoughtful input as we consider how to meet our institutional needs and aspirations. Please feel free to attend Budget Council, contact your representatives on Budget Council or contact me directly at

Waded Cruzado