Topics ranged from challenges facing first-generation college students to concerns about on-campus concealed carry during a meeting Thursday between University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod and KU’s Multicultural Student Government.
The program marked the first installment of MSG’s new “StraightTalk” series, and focused primarily on retention rates. Since his appointment this past spring, Girod has spoken several times about the importance of recruitment, retention and graduation rates, as well as improving the overall student experience at KU.
“We need to do a better job of maybe realistically outlining what it’s going to be like to go to college, and perhaps in a more personalized way,” Girod said in response to one student’s concerns over the unexpected costs that many first-generation students encounter in their first year of college.
Without college-educated parents to help guide these students through the financial aid process, an audience member pointed out, first-generation students are often left scrambling to find answers through several disparate offices around the university.
“And I think it behooves us (that) if we’re going to admit somebody, we need to understand what it’s going to take to help that person be successful,” Girod added.
Part of that, he said, is gaining a more complete “understanding of what those special needs are going to be” and developing more tailored methods of communicating with first-generation students.
Many of these students also fall under the category known in higher-ed circles as “URM,” or underrepresented minorities. According to data provided by KU’s Office of Institutional Research & Planning, first-year retention rates within this category have improved steadily — with the exception of a slight drop from 72.5 percent in 2013 to 69.4 percent in 2014 — over the last five years. The first-year retention rate for 2016 was 76 percent.
One audience member, who identified herself as a KU alumna and current KU School of Law student, asked Girod about the correlation between on-campus concealed carry and retention rates at the university. The presence of firearms on campus, she said, will deter both current and prospective students “if they don’t feel safe.”
Girod responded by saying he agreed with that assessment — and offered up concrete numbers that he said proved the connection between the onset of concealed carry and a potential decrease in enrollment and retention.
“We know of at least 30 to 40 students who did not come to KU — and they told us — because of that reason. And those are just the ones who told us, but we have no idea how many applied and got accepted and didn’t tell us that was why,” Girod said of concealed carry. “We know it’s had an impact, and I think it’s going to have an impact on our international population as well.”
When asked if discussions had taken place with the Kansas Board of Regents and KU donors about raising money toward creating secure entrances campuswide, Girod said “those are conversations we’ve been having.” Whether or not “they’ve been falling on receptive ears,” he said, wasn’t certain.
Under a state law enacted in 2013, publicly owned facilities other than K-12 public schools must allow concealed handguns in public spaces and buildings, unless entrances are equipped with “adequate security measures” to ensure no one with a gun gets inside.
When state universities’ exemption to that rule expired earlier this year, KU began allowing firearms on campus in order to comply with the law. But the university has started implemented new security measures this semester at football games, with the installation of metal detectors and security guards — and the banning of purses at all ticketed sporting events — at both Memorial Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse.
Costs associated with the new policies were approaching $1 million at the start of football season in late August, paid for by KU Athletics.
To “lock down” every building on campus in a similar fashion — including metal detectors and an armed officer at entrances — would cost the university about $30 million per year, Girod said.
“But obviously the legislation was written with an intent in mind, right? Which was to make it prohibited for us to be able to do that,” he said. “So, were they going to fund it? Absolutely not. And that’s just the reality of the situation.”
Girod also said he’d heard those concerns “loud and clear,” and that he would continue conversations with policymakers in the future.
By the end of Thursday’s “StraightTalk” program, the chancellor also said he would be open to meeting with the Multicultural Student Government twice per semester.