BY JACOB TROXELL
Robert Caret became the new University System of Maryland Chancellor on July 1 with a barrage of different issues on his plate, and now that he has heard out each USM campus, he is ready to take those challenges head on, including many that will affect Salisbury University.
The USM Chancellor will be responsible for working with the 17-member USM Board of Regents and college presidents around the state in order to get more college students to graduate, to graduate on time and to effectively provide affordable higher education.
Striving to take a hands-on approach to his new role, Caret toured each of the 12 campuses in the USM a few weeks ago to meet with a variety of campus administrators and students in order to feel both the positive energy and frustrations of each campus personally.
Caret’s first order of business now, he says, will be to look into different statewide issues that all 12 campuses in the USM system can collaborate on and impact together.
“The first thing is to give everybody a chance to explain to me their perspective of the world,” Caret said. “And to also learn the different parts of the system, and then to figure out where I play a role in doing things that need to be done that we can do as a system together.”
A different way of looking at educational funding
Enrollment growth, how institutions are funded, and graduation rates are a few issues Caret has looked into, but two of the most important Caret says he wishes to zone in on are college completion and institutional efficiency. Specifically he wants to get more students and higher percentages through college quicker, while making it more affordable for them.
“A lot of what you’re getting in (financial) aid is loans,” Caret said when speaking to a group of SU students in September on his tour. “To some extent, the problem is the federal government, although they won’t admit that.”
A fan of pushing for better financial literacy for students, Caret says he will fight for students to receive more grants and interest-free loans in order to provide high quality education at an affordable cost, not just at SU, but at every USM institution.
“Society gets it back,” Caret said. “It’s an investment in the future.”
Caret has previously been the president of three universities; San Jose State University, Towson University and most recently, the University of Massachusetts before taking over as the USM Chancellor.
He spent 29 years of his professional career at TU as a faculty member, dean, executive vice president, provost and served as the president for 13 of those years.
During his time as the president of UMass, Caret successfully achieved a 50-50 funding formula in which the state and students contributed equal amounts to the institution’s general education program.
While president at TU, Caret raised graduation rates and expanded the campus, improving the availability of TU courses online and at other locations in Maryland.
“Experience always helps, there are many complexities to our institutions,” Caret said when asked about his new role. “I feel my 20 plus years heading up four large institutions have been invaluable to me.”
So what is first for SU?
After having multiple conversations with SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach, Caret feels the two of them would like to develop the campus further.
“I’ve seen a lot of the growth here,” Caret said. “It is a campus that is poised for growth.”
More residence halls and renovation of the older buildings are a possibility; but before more expansion, he says they will need the appropriate capital infrastructure.
“How big do we want it to be and how are we going to help it get there,” Caret said. “For SU I think those are the key issues.”
Dudley-Eshbach announced SU’s new facilities master plan in April of this year, which includes plans to strengthen SU’s academic core, connecting main and east campus and other sustainability initiatives.
Cut into two five-year phases, the first phase includes construction of the Patricia R. Guerrieri Academic Commons and an addition onto Sea Gull Stadium, both currently under construction.
While the state is facing about a $1.2 billion budget deficiency, Caret said he does not expect any USM budget cuts this year, but there is no guarantee.
With the possibility of growth on SU’s table, Dudley-Eshbach says it will happen if the prices are right.
According to her, SU and TU receive the lowest amount of state-support per student, and SU will not grow in enrollments or facilities unless it receives the necessary resources, as she wants to keep its 17:1 student faculty ratio.
“Enrollment growth depends almost exclusively on whether new funding is available to support more students,” Dudley-Eshbach said. “Without new funding we’d have to rely more and more on adjunct and non-tenure track faculty, and the quality of the academic experience here could suffer.”
Dudley-Eshbach feels that it’s not fair to place increasing tuition and fees on students, and that SU’s focus on student success has paid off over the years.
“As a public institution with adequate state support we can remain affordable,” she said. “Our reputation has grown tremendously over the past two decades and this trend will continue.”
Caret has been given a flat budget for 2017, which means it will not increase or decrease from 2016. He has however, been asked to prepare for a cut in 2017 as a “plan b.”
Under this continuing service budget, the USM will keep costs at the same level.
Available funds will go to minor modifications on campuses and a small piece will be held for new buildings and staffing.
Caret says they cannot do much else unless more money comes in.
“We work hard to keep our needs at the top of the state agenda,” Caret said. “We have done very well in that regard and do not see anything that makes us feel we will be any less successful going forward.”