Monday, April 22, 2024

Chancellor updates students on ‘State of LSUS,’ fields questions 

by BIZ Magazine

LSUS chancellor Dr. Robert Smith painted a relatively grim picture of higher education across the country as colleges are facing enrollment and funding decreases while headed toward the “enrollment cliff” of 2025. 

But LSUS is bucking the national trend, posting its second-highest enrollment (9,377) while being recognized in various ways. 

“It’s a really difficult time for higher education in this country, and most universities like LSUS are struggling,” said Smith, who took over LSUS’s top position in July. “I’m really happy to say that’s not LSUS. 

“LSUS is on the upswing, our budget is solid, and our enrollment is growing. Our faculty and staff have been innovative, had the vision to see where we needed to go, and have been successful in supporting students.” 

Starting with the Great Recession in 2008, the U.S. birth rate has steadily declined, creating an “enrollment cliff” with those 2008 babies becoming college-aged in 2025. 

LSUS has a significant portion of its student body that are non-traditional students, meaning that most are not first-time freshmen coming straight from high school. 

LSUS has the most graduate students in Louisiana with 6,832, an increase of more than 700 this fall. 

But undergraduate enrollment grew for the first time since 2019, adding 62 students to 2,545. 

“That’s a 2.5 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment, which is great considering that many colleges across the country are seeing four percent decreases,” Smith said. 

LSUS was recognized as a Tier 1 institution in the Economic Mobility Index, which measures how much graduates improve their economic status after obtaining an LSUS degree. The Pilots measured better than any other Louisiana university. 

LSUS was selected by the Garnder Institute to join an 11-member cohort to reshape the first two years of the college experience, sharing what’s worked on its campus with other schools across the nation. 

“We have incredible support systems in place, from academic advisors to the Student Success Center, from our counselors to our DICE office (Diversity Inclusion and Community Engagement),” Smith said. “We were recently designated a hunger-free campus thanks to our Food Pantry.” 

Attracting more face-to-face students is a continuing goal of the administration, and Smith highlighted projects designed to make LSUS feel more like a residential campus. 

LSUS has obtained funding for a driving bridge from Pilots Pointe apartments to the heart of campus, and the university is initiating contracts and getting state approval. 

The university is also evaluating meal plans to add to The Port Grille’s offerings, which are set to be tested next fall. 

Plans are in place for The HUB, a student recreation center that will be housed where the swimming pool has been filled in. LSUS is seeking funding for that project in the next Louisiana Legislature session. 

The recreation center will include a basketball court, a weightroom, and a dance studio.  

Other projects include a science annex building that can facilitate additional research and a business engagement center. 

Renovation has begun in the business engagement center and is expected to be finished by the end of December. 

Students in the audience conducted a question-and-answer session lasting approximately 20 minutes. 

One key topic was the role artificial intelligence will play in education. 

“We have to recognize that artificial intelligence is here … and we have to figure out if we can embrace it,” Smith said. “Are there ways that we can embrace it in the classroom?” 

Smith cited one case study where a professor at another university assigned his students to use artificial intelligence to complete a project. 

“The students concluded that it was way more trouble to figure out the right questions to ask the artificial intelligence than just to do it (the traditional way),” Smith said. “There are some legal issues being sorted through right now. 

“What you don’t know is if something like ChatGPT is going to give you a bad answer today, will it have learned enough to give you a better answer in say three weeks? It’s still in its infancy, and we’re all trying to figure this out.” 

The LSUS Faculty Senate is analyzing artificial intelligence and is working toward a recommendation for campus. 

Another student, a psychology major and mother of an infant, inquired about the online availability of just certain LSUS programs. 

“Seventy-five percent of our students are enrolled in online programs, and it’s usually the other way around at other universities (25 percent online),” Smith said. “Online is great for some things, and for other subjects, online would be very difficult to do. 

“There is a demand for us to offer more face-to-face programs – it’s something that regional businesses and governmental entities want. It’s a difficult decision when choosing which programs should be online or have an online option, but it’s something we evaluate and consider.” 

Smith added that creating an online option of an existing face-to-face program would need to project an increase in enrolled students. 

“Because if you have a face-to-face program and an online program that are the same, if you don’t see an increase in students, now it’s twice as expensive to educate the same number of people,” Smith said. 

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