Category Archives: Memo

June 23, 2014: Is College Worth It?

In the documentary, Ivory Tower, the filmmaker Andrew Rossi takes Higher Education to task. Like many film directors competing for public attention, Mr. Rossi makes some bold assertions about an obvious question in order to create controversy. He asks if a college education is really worth it? Then he goes on to lament problems of mounting student debt, universities operating on a strictly business model, and college instructors who pander to students who appear to prefer good grades over actual knowledge.

But if we were to assume that Mr. Rossi is actually asking the right question, which I believe he is not (more on that below), what would be the right answer? Recently in the New York Times columnist David Leonhardt offers his insights in a thoughtful and compelling essay entitled “Is College Worth it? Clearly, New Data Say Yes.” While Mr. Leonhardt is quick to acknowledge that not everyone is immediately employable straight out of college and there even are some who initially accept positions for which they clearly are overqualified, he states that a “four-year degree has never been more valuable.” Citing U.S. Labor Department Statistics he concludes that “yes, college is worth it, and it’s not even close” when we examine the pay gap between those who finish and those who do not (or who never even start college in the first place). Mr. Leonhardt also quotes M.I.T. economist Dr. David Autor who says it quite simply: “We have too few college graduates” rather than too many. Like the person we occasionally meet who seems to have all the answers, it appears that Mr. Rossi is guilty of not asking enough questions, or maybe, simply not asking the right question.

Another way of asking his original question seems to be one even more fundamental: does a university education guarantee a college graduate will find a job? This really is what many parents want to know when they send their grown children off to college. I would argue that this question probably is more central in the minds of parents who are faced with paying anywhere from $16,000-$60,000 annually for their son or daughter to attend a four-year institution of higher education. But is this really the right question? Has sending kids to college become synonymous with investing family income in an outcome that automatically and immediately translates into net new income on the other end?

This more fundamental question could be answered in various ways. For example, there is the “compared to what” query. Will college graduates be more directly employable than say, a high school graduate or high school dropout? So compared to a high school grad, might we believe a college graduate to be more highly employable (and for jobs that pay better) than someone who stops at a high school level of education? I don’t believe Mr. Rossi wishes to argue this point and I doubt if anyone else would either. Surely more education is better than less just as certainly as being able to read and write and speak a native language is more helpful than not.

If we wanted to stick with the “does college pay off” line of reasoning we could think of it as a supply and demand problem. Only seven percent of the world’s population possesses a college degree, a point which underscores Dr. Autor’s statement from above that too few have attained a college education. Instead of equating one specific college degree with one specific job, colleges and universities offer the best available route for high school graduates to grow and mature in order to recognize their full human potential, prepare them for lifelong learning, and also compete in a global economy.

But even this question as I have re-phrased it really is not the question that particularly is the right one to ask. Colleges are not factories that train workers for jobs in any direct sense. We have trade schools for that (and some high schools even offer vocational and technical curriculum that will lead to work right after high school, albeit for jobs that are not terribly high skilled or well-paying). By comparison, universities are places of higher learning where students who have been broadly educated in K through 12 learn analytical reasoning, how to express themselves in both written and oral forms, and to think creatively on par with the best and brightest that society has to offer. That’s what I hoped for when I sent all three of my own children to college to seek higher knowledge. Furthermore, I was thrilled when two of the three indicated an interest in continuing their graduate studies beyond the bachelor’s level (I’m still optimistic that the third one will come around to this same point of view).

So we could think of investing in higher education in a more thoughtful way. College does not prepare students for a sprint. It readies them for a marathon. And at Sul Ross, we do this well and at a cost clearly at the lowest end of the college cost continuum. This is why we like to say that our students and their parents are some of the wisest investors on the planet!

June 16, 2014: The Search is Over and We have a Winner!

The search for the 12th President of Sul Ross is now concluded. I am pleased to announce that the process was successful and Sul Ross State University will welcome Dr. William Kibler as its next President.

Dr. Bill Kibler and Pam Kibler

Dr. Bill Kibler and Pam Kibler

Dr. Kibler currently is Vice-President for Student Affairs at Mississippi State University. A graduate of Texas A & M with a Ph.D. in Educational Administration, Dr. Kibler and his wife, Pam, and their two school-age children are expected to arrive later this summer to take over the reins at Sul Ross. It was a good choice and the Lobo community will be in very good hands.

I’m sure that you are, as I am, ready to put this search behind us and get ready for steady, permanent leadership. It is my wish that we all welcome Dr. Kibler and his family to Alpine and the Far West Region of Texas.


June 13, 2014: Presidential Search

I was right about one thing. Last week was an interesting week. My wife thought so, too.

We began the week cleaning up from a devastating hail storm and simultaneously preparing for campus visitors attending presidential search activities. Tuesday it all started early and then ended late.

Students, staff, and faculty all were invited to meet and the query prospective candidates about their impressions and plans for the University.  Each finalist and his spouse, Caryn and I included, got a chance to answer questions at forums with campus community members, culminating in a meet and greet opportunity to visit one on one with local residents and university supporters.

Wednesday began with campus tours and meetings with members of the Board of Regents,  TSUS System Staff, and Chancellor Brian McCall. The second half of the day was set aside for travel to Rio Grande College in advance of similar interview activities with RGC faculty and staff and SWTJC employees the following morning.

While I heard about one unusual question being asked of a candidate during the entire process, I think it was the only one. My wife and I only received relevant and thoughtful questions.  Caryn was particularly impressed with the queries from our students. Overall, I think the process was a good one for our spouses since they really got the chance to meet people and learn about their interests.

For me, I’ve always found interviewing invigorating.  There is an expectant air about the prospect of change and both interviewers and candidates usually emerge from the process with a wider point of view.

I don’t know who will be selected the next president of Sul Ross. And while I certainly hope I still have a chance for consideration, the decision is not mine to make. But I will say this. The selection process was a good one and it was executed exceptionally well.

I also will add one more observation…I am confident that the 12th President of Sul Ross State University will be a good one. The campus community came out and welcomed the three of us. Lobo pride, hospitality, and class were on full display.  Who wouldn’t want to be the next president here? President or Provost, I am proud of Sul Ross and happy to serve in whichever capacity I am needed.

June 9, 2014: West Texas Weather

While I was driving to Crane last Saturday to deliver the Golden Crane Graduation Speech a hailstorm hit Alpine and inflicted egg-sized hailstones on the city, most of which appeared to center on the east side of town, primarily electing to bombard the University. My speech, which was short and mostly uneventful in the scheme of things, paled in comparison to the scope of damage inflicted upon student, staff, and university vehicles parked on campus. Skylights across campus shattered, some windows at the Museum of the Big Bend were broken, and our green houses had substantial damage. My own truck, mostly covered by an awning at the President’s house, was clipped as well, and I’m fairly certain that both buildings at the President’s residence will need re-roofing.

SRSU Greehouse

SRSU Greenhouse

Hail on Saturday

Saturday’s hail

The good news in all this is no person sustained serious injury during the storm. Despite the inconvenience and the cost, glass can be replaced and metal can be repaired. But it is our students, staff, and faculty who are precious and I am thankful that the storm hit when it did—in the late afternoon on a very quiet


Saturday. Also we are fortunate that our new, $40,000+ electronic reader board that Aramark generously donated to Sul Ross was not already in place, and instead, is being installed this week. Furthermore, our new 40+ passenger tour bus that we acquired this Spring appears to be unscathed (at least all the panels and glass that we can see by walking around the bus).

Early Sunday morning I saw our grounds supervisor, Ken Smith taking pictures of the carnage. Clean up was already underway and expected to continue in earnest as our campus grounds crews re-doubled their efforts to prepare campus for the many visitors who would be on hand this week during final interviews to select the 12th President of Sul Ross. That schedule has been well-publicized ahead of schedule with Tuesday being the fullest day.

Events begin promptly at 8 AM on Tuesday for candidates and their spouses and involve all facets of the campus community. Then beginning at 5 PM, residents of Alpine are invited to meet and greet each of three finalists and their wives. The following one-half day is scheduled for interviews with Texas State University System Regents and the TSUS Chancellor, Dr. Brian McCall. Following that, it’s off to Uvalde where the process unfolds at the Rio Grande College and Southwest Texas State Junior College campuses and then concludes on Thursday.

Lots going on here as usual. Should be an interesting week!

Employee Awards

Employee Awards

If time is like a river, our campus current is running very fast this week. Last week we were treated to inspired performances by both a choir and a wind ensemble, an awards ceremony recognizing faculty and staff, a backyard BBQ,  ballet folklorico and mariachi performances sponsored by the Spanish Club, and a very-well attended baseball game that saw us clinch a conference playoff berth. Check it out here…

You can also watch the first playoff game on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 @ 4:00 pm at

Campus Cookout 2014

Campus Cookout 2014 – Aida and Yvonne

Campus Cookout 2014

Campus Cookout 2014 – Relaxing and enjoying the meal

Campus Cookout 2014

Campus Cookout 2014 – EC members serve the campus

This week is no less busy. Our students and faculty are deeply engaged in final exams, preparation to move out of residence halls, and commencement exercises. Also this week our baseball team travels to Concordia University of Texas’ Tornado Field to face #3 seeded Texas-Dallas in a first round game on Wednesday at 4:00 pm. Our band program has its outdoor BBQ this week; our Drama faculty and students finish out the year with their awards ceremony; and our Borderlands Research Institute hosts a fundraising event Thursday evening at the San Antonio Country Club. San Antonio also is the site this weekend for the first round of interviews with prospective candidates for the SRSU President’s job. The Search Committee will interview 8 or so before deciding whom will be invited for campus interviews in mid-June.

I’m very excited about graduation on Saturday. This year in Alpine we are honored to have onstage with us Texas State University Systems Chancellor Dr. Brian McCall and U.S. Representative Pete Gallego. Chancellor McCall will introduce Alpine native Gallego as our distinguished guest speaker. Then, at Uvalde commencement we will feature Alumnus and CFO for Blue Bell Creameries, Bill Rankin as our honored guest speaker. What a way to close out the semester!


Sasha and Family


P.S. On a sad note, our one and only campus barista, Sasha Maltos, her husband, and her two daughters lost all their possessions in a fire that completely destroyed their trailer home last Thursday evening. We have begun taking up donations around campus but if anyone would like to help out, Van Lyle is  taking collections as they come in.








April 30, 2014: New Faces

I’ll admit that I got in a bit late yesterday morning, not arriving in the office until 7:30. The sun casts a different shadow on the mountains driving in from Marfa if you drive half an hour later so that made it somewhat of a treat to behold. Most mornings I’m pulling into Alpine as the sun is coming up or before that so I miss the spectacular views and instead I watch the road for deer, javelina, and other four legged wildlife.

I have a good reason for being late this week. The NBA playoffs are underway and what a game the Spurs and Mavericks played Monday night! I didn’t expect Greg Popovich’s team would let Spurs fans down since they were behind one game and he didn’t disappoint. Manu Ginobli played lights out, making exceptional passes all night long, running the floor, and hitting clutch free throws at the end. Boris Diaw was on and Timmy was getting called for fouls he didn’t commit while Dirk seemed to have immunity from being called for fouls he did commit at anytime all throughout the second half. The game was dramatic from start to finish, with former Spur DeJuan Blair being ejected for a very odd play involving kicking Tiago Splitter in the head after a foul. But what a game it was and I can’t wait for game 5. I love the NBA playoffs, especially anytime the Spurs are playing.

I wanted to blog this morning about new faces. We’re a pretty lean operation at the University these days with approximately 125 full-time faculty across our four campuses. Now we do have some searches underway but these are mostly replacement positions instead of new positions. With forecasts for increased enrollments this summer and in the fall we may need to add more faculty but additions will have to lag increases for the most part. Two exceptions are in much needed areas in Education and Kinesiology.

Dr. Maria Gear

Dr. Maria Gear

At RGC we are pleased to have recruited Dr. Maria Gear to our Department of Education.  Dr. Gear has 23 years of experience in public school education as a Counselor, and Science and Math teacher.  She also served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and Texas State University for the last 4 years. Dr. Gear has her Doctorate in Education from UTSA, Master’s from our very own Rio Grande College, and Bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Austin.  Dr. Gear will have her office on the Eagle Pass campus of RGC and will teach undergraduate and graduate students as well as supervise student teachers.

Ms. Crishel Kline

Ms. Crishel Kline

In Alpine, we will welcome Ms. Crishel Kline to our Department of Education as a new faculty member who will teach courses in our newly proposed Health and Human Performance Master’s program that should be in place early next year. Ms. Kline obtained her Bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University, Master’s from Oklahoma State University, and is completing her Ph.D. from OSU.  Her teaching experience includes Exercise Physiology, Gerontology, and Health Education. Her research interest includes the fields of psychology, exercise science, health education and promotion.  She has presented at over 15 state and national conferences and has 5 publications in professional journals.  She is currently a member and holds certifications with the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association and participated as a McNair Scholar while at Oklahoma State.

Two more things to mention. Thursday evening, in Marshall Auditorium at 7:30 pm, our Music Program will present a choral concert and performance by our wind ensemble. Then, on Saturday our baseball team plays a double header starting at 1:00 pm to determine a playoff berth. Hundreds of t-shirts have been purchased as a giveaway to “red-out” the ballpark and show support for our team. Can’t wait for that game either! Go Lobos!

April 22, 2014: Servant Leadership

My daughter was here this weekend for Easter, or as she asserts was the real reason, to see her dog. It was a busy weekend in front of a busy week on campus.

We started Easter weekend by hiding Easter eggs in Kokernot Park with Kiwanis. It took about 8 Kiwanians plus my 19 year-old daughter about 45 minutes to “hide” 4000 plastic eggs. We didn’t really hide them so much as scatter them over the park, although Sarah tried her best to put some in trees and in the few challenging places that she could find. Of course the amazing part was predicted by Alpine Citizen of the Year and favorite Kiwanian Shirley Bieller, who said it takes us an hour to hide them and once the hunt begins, about 5 minutes for the kids to find them. She was right!

After a Sunrise service at 7AM on the Marfa High School football field and a 10AM Church Service, Easter weekend came to a close and my daughter left us to return to San Antonio. But the busyness didn’t stop there. Campus is running at full tilt from now until graduation. Last night Dr. Jim Case and various departmental representatives made numerous awards to our most outstanding students. For more than 90 minutes we invited students to the stage to accept recognition for their accomplishments. It was great fun to see and be a part of. I think I enjoyed Dr. Bonnie Warnock’s presentation the best. Everyone she recognized responded with a warm hug and a smile. Of course I also enjoyed my part since I got to go last and present the awards for Sul Ross Man and Woman of the Year. Tonight we have a gifted scholar on campus who will present the annual  Marshall lecture and later in the week we acknowledge the important contribution of campus administrative assistants at our annual luncheon held in their honor.

But back to last night…the Sul Ross Woman and Man of the Year are singular, annual awards stratified by gender. Neither is higher than the other but both are highly regarded and kept secret up until the minute the recipients are announced, in theory anyway. In actuality, parents are contacted the night before so that they can be given a heads up in case they wish to attend. They also are asked not to tell their son or daughter and to slip in quietly into the back of Marshall Auditorium so as not to be recognized. If was a very difficult decision to figure out which one of several well deserving students should be selected from the names submitted by each college dean. All of the candidates had fantastic grades and lengthy accomplishments, including service on and off campus. But what struck the group in our final decision was the stellar attitude of each of the two we selected. Both Ryan Hoffer and Sadie Sacra have off the chart capacity for servant leadership. They have risen to every occasion with an orientation of “how can I help” without thought to how they personally might benefit. This kind of attitude flies in the face of the last couple of generations that social scientists have referred to as the “me” generation or the millenials. Their parents can (and I’m sure they are) be very proud of Ryan and Sadie. They have done a tremendous job raising them to be the young adults they have grown up to be.

Sacra and Hoffer IMG_0961-e

Sadie Sacra and Ryan Hoffer
2014 Woman and Man of the Year

Thinking more about Sadie and Ryan and how they have set themselves apart during their time at Sul Ross has inspired the creation of a new award that I plan to introduce at the faculty and staff award ceremony early on May 1st. It’s called the Annual Lobo Leadership Award. While undoubtedly there are many who might qualify, I have a person in mind who rose to an incredible challenge when called upon in a critical time of need. To me this embodies the “can do/will do” attitude of the Lobo family, not asking what’s in it for me, but rather how can I help our students and university succeed. I look forward to acknowledging this person’s contribution to Sul Ross State University in May. I believe this to be the first of many in years to come who epitomize what it means to be a Lobo at our very best.

April 16, 2014: Enrollment Projections

I am constantly asked about enrollment numbers and where we stand for the Fall. This is an important question that I don’t mind addressing since it is an essential dimension for assessing university viability in higher education. I also am happy to report that the outlook for Sul Ross in the months ahead is good, although this is not the case at many institutions of similar size.

Earlier this week I read an article that indicated that the fate of small colleges and universities around the USA is trending downward. On average, enrollment numbers have fallen 10 percent across the country. Granted that while most of the declines are associated with smaller universities that are either independent or private, and therefore much more expensive than Sul Ross, nonetheless it underscores the fierce competition that smaller institutions face when it comes to student recruitment.

At SRSU, we are fortunate to have initiated a strong enrollment management plan that matches us with students seeking a private school education who find themselves on a public school budget. It also keys on student preferences for campus safety, a small town setting, and college programming that takes advantage of the Big Bend region and our cultural heritage, as well as, innovative degrees in new subjects like computer gaming and exotic ranch management.

So what are the strong numbers that we can report at this time? According to Denise Groves, Vice President for Enrollment Management and our very capable staff in Enrollment and Admissions, we are seeing promising projected increases in both the Summer and the Fall. For the upcoming summer term, comparing the number of students by this time last year who indicated they would be attending classes either in Summer I or Summer II, our projected headcount is ahead by 36.4 percent. Comparing anticipated student credit hour (SCH) production using the same methods, our forecast is for an increase in SCHs of 33.2 percent.

Spring Sully Showcase 2014

Spring Sully Showcase 2014

Shifting to Fall projections, we can look at student enrollment across two primary dimensions, those students who already are enrolled and those who will admit to Sul Ross for the first time (i.e., new applicants). For the former, our data suggest that currently enrolled students on our Alpine campus have greatly surpassed  all expectations in terms of headcount and student credit hour production. At this time last year there were only 61 graduate students signed up for Fall classes compared to 89 so far this year (a 46% increase). In terms of total headcount, we have outpaced this same time last year a whopping 167 percent (94 last year compared to 251 this year). Even better, our SCHs among currently enrolled students is ahead by 207 percent so far (841 versus 2585)!

Spring Sully Showcase 2014

Spring Sully Showcase 2014

In addition to projected gains among returning students we also are excited about likely increases in new freshmen on the Alpine campus. So far the number of new freshman applicants who have met college requirements is 29 percent ahead of this time last year (398 last year versus 514 this year). Our total number of new undergraduates is up 27 percent overall (this includes transfers) and 79 percent for graduate applicants who have met all requirements for admission.

So whenever you see me, ask about enrollments. I love talking about them! :)

April 9, 2014: Faculty Teaching Loads

In Graves-Pierce a few weeks ago, I overheard a faculty member talking to another person working out about the use of part-time faculty on college campuses. I didn’t catch much more than a gist of what was being said but I think it was along the lines that universities rely too heavily on “adjuncts” to teach students and that most every institution is guilty of this practice to a high degree. Just to be clear, there was no indictment that part-time faculty are not capable instructors, but rather, the issue was that they were being overused and underpaid and that the economics was the driving force for this perceived trend in higher education across the U.S.

A few weeks later the issue of adjunct instructors came up again at Kiwanis when one of our members became concerned about a tragic case involving a well-known scholar who died homeless and penniless after 25 years of part-time university teaching. The story was appalling for the picture it painted of how a once iconic professor could apparently be exploited for so long and for so little pay. It was also eye-opening in that the article that told this sad story suggested that some colleges and universities across the country rely on adjuncts to teach up to one-half of their courses. Perhaps this is a criterion that parents should consider when deciding where their children should attend college rather than just assume that all the classes taught at the university of their choice consist of full-time faculty instruction.

I thought about this issue and how it might apply to Sul Ross so I asked my executive assistant, Yvonne Realivasquez, if she could gather some data. The information she assembled from Dr. John Jones in Institutional Research confirmed pretty much what I expected. At SRSU, we have few classes taught by part-time instructors. One, because our full-time faculty prefer to teach any additional courses that department chairs determine are needed to meet student demand, and two, probably because we don’t have a lot of well qualified adjuncts living in the area who are available to teach on a regular basis.

Looking at the data Yvonne gathered, I observed that Sul Ross seems to be well vested in full-time faculty teaching our students. While we do employ adjunct instructors, we do so in only approximately 13% of our classes out of the 776 class sections we offered this Spring semester. I think this amounts to about 38 adjunct instructors on our entire university payroll, which is about the same number I had working for me each semester in the academic department I chaired at my previous institution.

Another issue that usually is linked to the overuse of adjunct instructors is that related to low pay. Low pay can mean that institutions are “exploiting” part-time people by paying them less than they should; low pay may also infer that students in classes taught by adjuncts are not getting their money’s worth since poor pay might be associated with poor preparation or less than ideal qualifications. In urban areas where there tend to be a lot more unemployed or underemployed doctorates who would like to land full-time teaching assignments there is a great temptation for highly educated people to try and make a go of it by teaching whenever an opportunity arises.  Conversely, there also is a great temptation for urban universities to capitalize on the overabundance of supply in the face of limited demand.  For the overly optimistic underemployed, the hope is that somehow teaching several part-time classes for $2000-3000 per course might eventually lead to a permanent faculty position.

Sul Ross doesn’t employ a lot of part-time instructors as I mentioned above. Furthermore, I do not believe that those who teach as adjuncts usually do so simply for the pay. In most cases we find that part-time instructors are either retired from teaching and don’t want to totally disassociate themselves from a profession they love and the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of curious students. These kind of instructors make the best adjuncts, and Sul Ross is fortunate to provide the few that we have with a place where they can continue to play an important role in SRSU student success. Sul Ross subscribes to small class sizes that are taught primarily by full-time, permanent faculty who were hired by academic departments for just that purpose. It might sound a bit old-fashioned but I think other institutions would prefer to do it this way if only they could.

April 2, 2014: Something Completely Different…

I ran by my wife my idea for my latest blog and darn it if she didn’t like it. So I decided to come up with an alternative. She won’t like it either, but then I’m not going to show it to her before I post it. :)

According to my wife, I have been spending too much time about the university and continuing to hammer on its strengths. Sorry, but that is what I see and live each and every day. I love to go to work because it’s a great place to be and there’s lots of good things to do in service to the students, faculty and staff. So instead, I’m going to talk about her.


Caryn Thurman

She left me alone for three days this past week while she was off leading a group of Presbyterian Women from central Texas on a spiritual retreat. For three weeks prior to the event she hemmed and hawed around about what she was going to talk about and how she didn’t know anything about the subject and why did they ask her anyway. This is the same pattern that I’ve seen over and over ever since she became a pastor. It’s kind of like, why did I say yes and what have I gotten myself into now?

But the panic before the storm does not last and right up before the deadline inspiration strikes and she somehow manages to pull out something creative and useful. Part of this whole process is her personality as a person who works best under deadline; partly, she also tends to stay very busy and so she doesn’t have a lot of free time to take things slowly and easily. Of course I think the biggest part is waiting for divine inspiration to strike and none of us can force God’s timing on that one.

I’ve also observed another pattern that goes hand in glove with her preparation. It’s the post-delivery part. Once she has shared her message, she is nearly totally surprised that it came off so well, that it resonated so much with someone or maybe several someones who are kind enough to let her know. I see this every week at Church. She works hard to prepare a 15-20 minutes sermon (the shorter ones are the harder ones, kind of like the old adage I would tell my graduate students when I would require them to write a paper: people who don’t have time to write a short paper end up writing a longer one rather than a better one—the better one is the shorter version that has been edited and proofread and edited again).

Caryn 2

From Left to Right – Dr. Rob Kinucan, Caryn Thurman, and Dr. Jim Case
Graduation December 2013

My wife returned from her retreat tired but elated. She was the keynote speaker to 200-300 women and was permitted the honor of leading them in worship on the morning she drove home. She got to partake in communion with a mentee whom she helped to persuade to pursue a calling as a Presbyterian lay minister. Both dogs were happy to have her home and so was I. Now that she’s home, we can return back to the routine of wondering what she will say in worship next Sunday and wondering how she will ever prepare anything good enough to stand and deliver. She’s an amazing woman and I am in awe of her.

Our Two DogsOur Two Dogs

Our Two Dogs