Morehead State University's new president, Dr. Joseph “Jay” Morgan, said enrollment for the public institution looks solid for the Fall.
Morgan visited Boyd County this past week to meet with fellow educators and business leaders. He said he doesn't have an exact number yet for enrollments, but "our first-time freshmen (numbers) look really good."
"That is a good indicator for an institution if you've got freshmen with positive numbers," Morgan said. "And those numbers look good in relation to what was budgeted for when I arrived at Morehead. Our sophomores, right now -- and we don't have super accurate counts...early numbers are fairly positive."
Morgan is the new president of a university that, along with Ashland Community & Technical College and other public institutions throughout the Tri-State, are critical components in the region's push for long-term economic growth. Morgan said the university, like all public institutions, faces headwinds. A significant one is declining state revenue. Other challenges include rising healthcare and pension costs. Morgan said he believes Morehead has an advantage over other larger public universities in the state facing the same headwinds.
"What we are banking on is Morehead State is we are about 10,500 students," Morgan said. "Other universities are certainly bigger than we are. They can beat us on volume. I think we can beat them (our competitors) on being nimble. We are small enough that we can turn the ship a little bit faster in some accords than other folks can. Our bureaucracy is less so I think we can."
Morgan said he believes the university is in a solid position to address healthcare and pension costs.
"We are watching the pension issue with Frankfort probably about as close as you are...we don't know where it's going to be or where it is going to land," Morgan said. "We don't necessarily like it because it's probably going to be increased costs for us and that pushes down on the things we can do and straps our dollars. We have the similar things that other schools are looking at and I constantly say Morehead is not operating in a silo — all the institutions in Kentucky are wrestling with the same ghosts. Pensions. Healthcare. Enrollment. Declining state support. It is no different."
Morgan was introduced at the university’s new president in March. He described some very exciting times for the university, noting some major construction projects are ongoing — the Adron Doran University Center is undergoing a significant renovation and expansion.
"The goal is to open (the center) by Fall of 2018," Morgan said. "It is obviously a very signature building for the campus. It is a renovation and expansion. It is going to be beautiful. It will really transform that part of the campus."
The Rocky Adkins Dining Commons is set to open in late October. There are also renovations underway on the president's home.
Morgan said a significant goal is to resume the university's relationship with the Saudi Cultural Embassy. He also said Graduate program enrollment numbers have slipped, but other institutions in Kentucky are struggling with the same issue. The university is planning for about $43 million in state aid and the university is prepared for the possibility of more drops in state funding.
"I don't know that I have a prediction going forward, but we are probably looking at a couple of years of constrained budgets from the state," Morgan said.
Morgan, when asked if there are plans to cut back on programs or services, said he is "less inclined to cut back on programs because you are cutting back on the piece that is providing you what your core function is."
"That's not to say you don't streamline some,” he said. “But I don't see widespread cutbacks in instruction because instruction is one of the larger factors to getting more state money. We need to be spending more money in instruction to get more state money. If push comes to shove we are probably looking at efficiencies, but I don't want to get into widespread contracting out of services."
Morgan said Boyd, Greenup and Carter counties and the greater region are very important to the university.
"We are committed to the region," Morgan said. "We are committed to reasserting ourselves in some parts of the region and to being aggressive and we are not going to back up from that.
"All of our service area is important -- we are assigned to a 22-county area (assigned by the state)...we know that we've got to service 22 counties and we are not going to back up from that.
"We feel like our growth can come from certain areas," he said. "Obviously there is a population base here that some of our other service region counties do not have so I think it tells us automatically we have to pay close attention to this area. We know there are choices for students who come from this area other education choices...We obviously want to keep them here. We want to make sure we are a good partner with the community."