October board meeting discusses university trends

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The University of Dallas tower, which is home to the Cowan Bells, rises above the treeline at sunset. Photo by Francesca Norman.

Last month, Interim President Dr. John Plotts, selected faculty and other members of the administration presented a state of the university report to the Board of Trustees. During the Board’s first meeting of the academic year, they emphasized the university’s expansion, including unprecedented enrollment, greater focus on fundraising initiatives and an increased awareness of the community’s needs, including the need for a transfer student counselor.

In a summary report sent to trustees, Plotts wrote that Richard Husseini, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said that applications for the next president of the university will be accepted until Friday, Nov. 16. The first round of interviews is expected to be conducted in mid-December, Husseini said. The next president is likely to be selected by February 2019.

General counsel Karin Rilley said in an interview that the Board is planning to be fully engaged in the presidential search.

The official synopsis also made note of record-breaking undergraduate enrollment. Constantin College received 377 freshmen this August, bringing total undergraduate enrollment to 1471, the largest in the university’s history.

Despite a drop in enrollment from August 2017’s class of over 400 freshmen, it is expected that the university will generate the highest net revenue this year compared to the five previous years, due to the decreased discount rate given to incoming students, according to the President’s Report presentation.

In an interview, Plotts explained the discrepancies between merit scholarships awarded to freshman classes in the past two years.

According to Plotts, more scholarships were awarded in 2017 due to the size of the freshman class and the high number of high achieving students, defined by a combination of their GPA and SAT scores. In 2017, the university offered a discount rate of 70.2 percent, while in 2016 the discount rate was 65.4 percent. This year, the offered discount rate was 64.9 percent.

Furthermore, Plotts said, 28 percent of this year’s incoming freshmen were eligible to receive Federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the maximum amount an eligible student can receive via the Pell Grant for the 2018-2019 award year is $6,095.

As a consequence of the increase in the number of students receiving federal aid, Plotts said that the number of merit-based scholarships awarded decreased. He added that students who are not eligible for FAFSA but instead receive merit scholarships are those most affected by the drop in university-sponsored aid.

Plotts was unclear as to whether or not this policy will continue. This issue, Plotts said, is generally assessed on an annual basis. However, Plotts also stated that the university is seeking to slowly reduce the university-sponsored discount rate for merit scholarships.

Citing the students eligible for federal aid, Plotts challenged “misconceptions … [that] we’re becoming a small, exclusive, rich boutique school for high-paying kids.”

According to Rilley, the Board convenes three times throughout the year, in February, May and October, in addition to a retreat in January. Rilley said that the committees meet throughout the year, usually in conjunction with Board meetings.

A significant number of trustees travel to Dallas for the Board meetings, Rilley explained; these include Bishop Mark Seitz, who journeys to Dallas from his home diocese of El Paso, Texas, and trustees who live out-of-state.

Rilley described the trustees as individuals who “are responsible for the well-being of the university” in keeping the university true to its values.

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