LU President Evans launches QEP initiative as school grows

President Ken Evans delivers a speech during Convocation 2017 in the Montagne Center Tuesday, Aug. 22.

President Ken Evans delivers a speech during Convocation 2017 in the Montagne Center, Aug. 22. UP photo by Hannah LeTulle

President Kenneth Evans presented a “state of the university address,” where he unpacked current projects, shared updates, unveiled plans and celebrated accomplishments.

After Evans welcomed 122 new full- and part-time staff members and 24 new faculty members, he addressed the renovations several buildings including Gray Library, which should be finished in October, the Setzer Student Center, which is set to be completed in February, and the Science and Technology which should be ready November of 2018, ahead of schedule.

“I walked into (the library) after the demolition had been done, after taking out the circulation desk and other things that were on the first floor, frankly, it hadn’t looked any better in my mind than it did before — and that’s under demolition,” Evans joked. “So I can’t wait to see the finished project.”

President Ken Evans kicks off the new semester with the 2017 Convocation in the Montagne Center Tuesday, Aug. 22.

President Kenneth Evans kicks off the new semester with the 2017 Convocation in the Montagne Center Tuesday, Aug. 22. UP  photo by Hannah LeTulle

Evans talked about the increase in students studying abroad, saying 220 students went abroad this summer compared to 50 in 2016.

“More importantly, we brought every student back that we took abroad,” he added, with a laugh.

Additionally, Evans said enrollment for the fall semester looks possibly to exceed last fall’s. Residence halls capacity is at 93 percent.

“That is alarmingly close to where we like to operate,” he said. “We may have to begin looking at the likelihood of a new residence hall in the not-too-distant future.

“All of the states around us are experiencing decline in their population base, so we are a very attractive

location. When we’re competing in Houston or Dallas, we’re not competing against Texas schools, we’re competing against Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, and I could go on — Florida, California. So it’s critical for us to step our game plan up and we’ve done that.”

However, Evans cited Lamar’s low graduation rate as a field of emphasis.

“The elephant in the room is this, that over the past decade, Lamar’s six-year graduation rate is 30 percent— it’s a published fact, anybody can access it,” he said. “ In fact, students and parents, when they’re looking at Lamar, look at that number.

“For us to transition to the average 55, 56, 57 percent six-year graduation rate means that everybody in this room needs to put their oars in the water to help us accomplish that. It means that when a student doesn’t show up for class that we reach out to them. It’s that act of caring that contributes to a significant transition in our ability to retain students.”

Evans said the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is looking at detailed statistics to help guide improvement in this area.

“It’s very cold. It’s very calculated. But nonetheless, it’s an extremely important process that every institution needs to go through,” he said. “A very different team comes to campus and they look at the reaffirmation of accreditation.”

LU President Kenneth Evans shows off a frisbee with the "Wings" slogan for the QEP initiative, during 2017 Convocation, Aug. 22, in the Montagne Center. UP photo by Hannah LeTulle

LU President Kenneth Evans shows off a frisbee with the “Wings” slogan for the QEP initiative, during 2017 Convocation, Aug. 22, in the Montagne Center. UP photo by Hannah LeTulle

Lamar has instituted a Quality Enhancement Program to focus on retention and on mainstreaming students who are struggling with their math skills. The QEP has been branded with the name “Wings,” as it is a tool to lift the students up and help them in their trajectory and their program, Evans said.

With QEP, students are put into eight weeks of remedial work and then mainstreamed into the completion of their first math class.

“This has been demonstrated nationwide to be very successful,” Evans said. “What is doesn’t do, is it doesn’t set the student back in their matriculation. It gets them moving along and, hopefully, gets them moving towards a six-year degree, or maybe less.”

Evans says he is just as proud of a student who takes 10 to 12 years to graduate as he is of one who takes five or six.

“Somebody who works full or part-time, maybe holds down two jobs, has a family, maybe is taking care of their parents, and is struggling to try to make it all happen — the fact that they complete is a testament to them and their fortitude, because their completion, and often times they are a first generation student, will transform the lives of every family member from that point forward,” he said.

Prior to Evans speech, Norman Bellard, assistant to president for community relations, shared thoughts concerning the community surrounding Lamar University.

“We believe the residents of South Park can reimagine their neighborhoods as vibrant, growing and dynamic communities in which to live, work and play,” he said.

Cheerleader Morgan Gotte closes Convocation with the school song Tuesday, August 22, 2017 in the Montagne Center.

Cheerleader Morgan Gotte closes Convocation with the school song, Aug. 22, in the Montagne Center. UP photo by Hannah LeTulle

Bellard said a representative group from the neighborhood was brought alongside community leaders, clergy, business owners and leaders from both LIT and LU in an effort to breed, “New life into the South Park neighborhood.”

“The group focuses on community engagement, safety, security and infrastructure,” he said.

Bellard said during early 2015, documentation was being taken on residential and commercial structures that had been affected by hurricanes Rita and Ike and were deemed unsafe or abandoned. This information was presented to the mayor and city manager.

“Lamar University is a major economic engine for this community and needs to function in an environment that is safe and not surrounded by evidence of economic blight,” he said.

Since then, 57 of those 80 structures in South Park have been remodeled, refurbished, upgraded or demolished.

Bellard listed small victories, including clean-up events, a community garden and street and lighting repairs. He also brought attention to Southpark neighborhood scholarships.

“After reviewing applications, three qualified, deserving incoming freshman will receive the full cost for tuition, fees, room, board and books beginning this fall,” he said.

Evans picked up on Bellard’s efforts, saying that Lamar is considered one of the more diverse student populations in the country, and in the state.

“As you heard from Norman Bellard, we are likewise committed to the diversity of the neighborhood in which we reside,” Evans said. “We celebrate that diversity, and we are committed to a sharing of the rights and privileges of all the members of our campus and local community.”

Evans ended with good news for faculty and staff, informing them of a 2 percent merit raise beginning Jan. 1.

“We made the commitment that (raises) had to be part of what this budget was going to look like going forward,” he said. “That means a little more tightening here, a little more tightening there, but at the end of the day it was critical for us to do that.”

UP story Shelby Strickland

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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