KU reaches out to Marion
University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was listening Friday for a message she says she hopes to hear every time she visits Kansas communities like Marion.
“I want to hear that ‘We know the University of Kansas is interested in our students,’” Gray-Little said. The chancellor discovered that wasn’t always the case after arriving at KU three years ago from North Carolina.
“In the first year I was here the most common concern I heard expressed was that KU seemed uninterested in reaching out to recruit students,” Gray-Little said. “We needed to get out more.”
Gray-Little spoke at a breakfast reception of about 20 KU alumni and community members, followed by an in-depth interview with Marion County Record staff.
Under Gray-Little’s leadership KU has implemented a five-year strategic plan and unveiled a $1.2 billion capital campaign to enhance student learning and solidify KU as a top-tier research university.
“It encompasses everything from research to making sure that our programs for undergraduate and graduate students are first quality,” Gray-Little said. “We’re focusing on our students, we’re focusing on our faculty, we’re focusing on our business processes.”
Gray-Little said the fundraising effort will help to offset the challenges of declining state revenue, which is less than 25 percent of KU’s budget, and rising tuition costs.
“Last year more of the cost of education was being paid for by tuition than by the state,” Gray Little said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re so focused on raising money for scholarships to offset that.”
Gray-Little said the rising cost of tuition should not keep students from applying to KU.
“We give millions of dollars of scholarships,” Gray-Little said. “Students shouldn’t let the fact they don’t have money keep them from applying. For the student, the most important thing is to be as ready as they can possibly be academically.”
Gray-Little said curriculum revisions and linking students with university communities will foster student success. She would like for students to be more engaged with faculty as well.
“This is a research university — I would like to see more of our students involved in research with faculty,” Gray-Little said.
“We’re also interested in research that has some real-world benefit and economic benefit,” Gray-Little said. One example is a project to created chemical substitutes for oil from non-edible portions of crops.
“I can’t think of an area of research that is more suited for Kansas than that,” Gray-Little said, noting that if the research is successful it would spur economic growth in grain-farming areas.
Gray-Little wants to increase the national visibility of programs and research at KU.
“There’s a tendency in the mass media to ignore things that go on in this part of the country,” Gray-Little said, “and we want to make sure they’re taking note of the things we’re doing. We want to make sure the university’s reputation as an academic institution, a research institution, is known beyond Kansas.”
Gray-Little said she is concerned about decreasing student enrollment in humanities as students turn to majors such as business.
There’s so much focus on doing something that will get you a job, there’s a focus on doing things that are more applied, more technical,” Gray-Little said. “The benefits of the humanities and arts are things that can be articulated, but they can’t be easily counted.”
Gray-Little said employers are looking for employees with the skills general education and humanities courses teach. She gave an example from the field of engineering.
“They want engineers who can think creatively, solve problems, have good communications skills, know how to manage people,” Gray-Little said. “In other words, they want engineers that can do all those things that are highlighted in general education.”
The breakfast was sponsored by the Santa Fe chapter of the KU Alumni Association, and board member Martin Tice couldn’t recall a prior visit to Marion by a KU chancellor.
“I thought it was nice she came to Marion,” Tice said. “It’s a sign of the outreach the University is trying to do across the state of Kansas. I was appreciative of all the local interest on the part of alumni and community members.”