An intimidating blizzard forecast didn’t keep newly-appointed Nebraska State College System (NSCS) Chancellor Paul Turman from visiting Chadron State College, Tuesday, to host town hall meetings and get to know CSC’s campus.
Turman started the morning speaking to a full house at the 11 a.m. campus-wide forum, an event that gave him an opportunity to discuss the details surrounding Gov. Ricketts’ 2019-2021 budget and his own priorities for his first year on the job. Turman explained the legislative funding process for the Math-Science initiative, a $28 million-dollar project to renovate the Math and Science building, and the steps he’s taking to secure funding. He described it as a “whittling process” to take big ideas and break them down for those who cast the votes.
“I try to take complex ideas and get them whittled down into just one page or two pages, so when I have those elevator speeches with legislator or stakeholders they can see what the most critical points of our argument are,” Turman said.
Turman emphasized the importance of the initiative not only for retention but also for securing the competitive edge Chadron State needs to draw students in. According to Turman, the rangeland management program saw a 28 percent increase in the total number of students because of the Rangeland Complex. For legislators looking for a tangible return on investment, Turman uses these numbers to explain why investing in facilities are necessary, especially for a college’s long-term goals.
“You have to invest in facilities. I think we all recognize this,” Turman said. “When you bring students on campus, and if you can’t put them in an environment that is appealing to them, especially if they want to go into one of these degree programs, they need to feel a sense of connection to the classrooms they’re going to be in.”
Coming from a background in research and communications, Turman broke down his first-year priorities into a four points: System-level strategic planning, Coordinated Data/Integration, Educational Attainment and Affordability Metrics. All four rely heavily on data to support their functions, Turman said, and because of that he stressed the importance of using data regularly.
“Arnie Duncan presented and talked a little bit about his perspective of data and why data is critically important, and his analogy was that most of the time data looks a lot like fine china you have in your house. If your parents were anything like mine, you broke out the fine china once a year, maybe…our use of data needs to be more of the everyday dining ware that you have, that you break out and you’re looking at it and you’re constantly evaluating. When you have a chip in it, you recognize it early and you try to do things to do something different,” Turman said.
A lunch at noon in the CSC cafeteria followed the 11 a.m. forum, giving students a chance to meet Turman and ask him questions. Topics such as RHOP, student engagement and even an invitation to an event were discussed, but Turman made sure to reiterate that retaining affordability is the biggest priority.
“I think the most important (question) is, ‘Are we continuing to make sure that what we offer is affordable for students down the road?,’ Turman said. “College costs continue to be a big topic of discussion around the country, and I think it’s always done within the right context that, ‘Are we as efficient as we can be? Are we making sure that our prices are where they need to be for students?’ Every time we talk about tuition increases we need to link those two things together.”
When it comes to student feedback, Turman said plans for a task group are in the works that will involve students throughout the three-college system. In it, students will be able to relate common concerns and questions among the colleges’ student populations.
Though Chadron is the longest drive out of the three colleges, Turman said he plans on making the trek “three to four times a year” and will hold open forums like Tuesday’s once a year “around the start of the semester.” According to Turman, visits like these are necessary to staying grounded with the campuses he serves.
“I think it’s important to get out to the campuses and talk to students. If I sat in my office in Lincoln and never went out to the campuses it’s very easy to lose sight of all the things that are happening,” Turman said.
Chancellor Turman will make his next visit to CSC April 11-12 for board meetings, a groundbreaking ceremony for the new track and The Big Event.