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VOL. 129 | NO. 23 | Tuesday, February 04, 2014

University of Memphis' Martin Challenges Dropout Premise

By Bill Dries

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University of Memphis interim President Brad Martin says the premise that students coming out of high school are academically unprepared for higher education may not be as prevalent as it’s believed to be. And he adds that the university’s experience indicates students leave without graduating because of other factors.

University of Memphis interim President Brad Martin challenges the reasons students drop out of school.

“That’s a common belief. I’m not sure that’s true. I’m not sure that students are any less prepared for college than students were when I went to college,” Martin said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines.”

Martin is a 1976 graduate of the university.

“When we look at the academic performance of our students who do not graduate, invariably, it’s not just academics,” he said. “It’s financial. It is family. It is some sort of an emotional or social issue that’s come up. Only probably about 10 percent of our students that do not finish clearly can’t do the work or have not been able to do the work at that level.”

The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

Martin, who became interim president of the city’s largest institution of higher learning in July, set a basic goal of growing the university from its current enrollment of 22,000 students and bringing the school’s graduation rate from the mid-40s to the national average of 54 percent.

Central to those two goals, Martin believes, is no tuition increase on his watch, which is expected to be about a year.

“We are not going to raise tuition this coming year. We think enough is enough,” he said. “We’re very serious about growing our enrollment, improving our success rate and that will generate incremental revenue dollars in tuition and incremental revenue dollars from the state.”

Martin is also critical of higher education’s rise in price, which he said has increased nationally more than the cost of providing that education has increased.

“I think those days are over,” he said. “But the University of Memphis is still a bargain. It’s a fair bargain, and we have substantial federal programs, state programs and generous scholarships have been provided by donors.”

The state provides $5,000 in funding a year for every student, out of $9,000 annual tuition for in-state students.

Martin is among higher education leaders who would like to see Tennessee forget about the state line when it comes to tuition for students who live in metro Memphis but on the other side of a state line.

He estimates about 1,000 university students live in the greater Memphis area but in Arkansas and Mississippi.

“I don’t even understand how the concept of an in-state or out-of-state student works in 2014 when so much of our education is online,” Martin said. “What’s the digital border between north Alabama and Memphis if you are taking three classes online? I think it’s nuts.”

The state does not contribute to the university’s cost of educating those students who pay more in tuition and have an impact on the local economy.

“Those people are going to be school teachers, nurses, scientists and engineers. They are going to work in this greater Memphis community,” he said. “We are desperate to have more college-educated workers in the greater Memphis community. The state contributes not a dime to the operating costs of us serving those 1,000 students.”

Tuition is two-thirds of the university’s revenue pool, with the other third coming from state funding. State funding has declined and university tuition has increased every year for the last 22 years.

Martin has also made cuts in the university’s payroll. As enrollment at the University of Memphis has dropped, Martin said the faculty has increased 6 percent since the 2008-2009 academic year and staff has increased 2 percent over the same period.

“We are not immune from the laws of economics,” Martin added, saying no tuition hike should increase the university’s revenue flow. “I think you will find that with no tuition increase we will have a substantial year-over-year increase in revenues if we achieve our enrollment goals.”

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