By Chris Romriell
Photo by Whitney Peterson
LOGAN—In a recent wide-ranging conversation with students, USU President Stan Albrecht offered his perspectives on the recent economic downturn, its effect on Utah State, and offered an optimistic analysis for the university’s future.
Over the past 18 months, since the U.S. economy “went into the toilet,” Albrecht said budget issues have consumed most of his attention and energy. But the president said USU is now finding its way through the budget difficulties, and Albrecht said he is optimistic about the future.
Albrecht made his remarks during an hour-long press conference with the staff of the Hard News Café, USU’s student news website.
As part of the budget crisis, created by the U.S. bank collapse in 2009, USU has faced the loss of critical faculty, Albrecht said. “These have been very difficult,” he said. Not only has the university lost senior faculty to early retirement incentives, but those positions cannot be filled because of cuts to the USU budget. USU faces another 14 percent cut in state funding in the coming year.
Directly related to the loss of faculty, Albrecht said, is the increase in class sizes at USU. Class sizes have increased dramatically over the past few years, mostly in general education. Part of the reason for the increase has been USU’s reluctance to turn to part-time adjunct staff or graduate students to fill the lost faculty positions, he said.
“If you look at our numbers, we have a larger percentage of our classes taught by full time, tenured, or tenured track faculty than any institution like us in the country,” Albrecht said. “We have said we are not going to take the quick fix by turning to adjunct, graduate students and parttime faculty, but that we will continue to emphasize tenured faculty.”
Albrecht said he believes that USU will continue to see some impact on class size over the next few years, but that progress on that front is already moving forward. Lowering the cost of online courses offered to students, new faculty at USU’s regional campuses, and one-year faculty hires have all helped contain growing class sizes.
Despite a difficult 18 months, however, Albrecht says he believes USU and the state economy are about to turn a corner.
When asked if there were any changes regarding the budget crisis that could affect students at USU in the near future, Albrecht was optimistic.
“I know you’re probably thinking, ‘Well, I graduate in June, or next June, so this isn’t going to make any difference for me,’” Albrecht said. “But it will make a difference for this institution.”
Albrecht finished the conference talking about job placement for USU’s graduating students. Despite the bad economy and job market, Albrecht has high hopes for graduates. One plus is that USU alumni love hiring USU graduates, Albrecht said, mentioning the quality of an Aggie education and a strong work ethic received at USU.
“We will do the very best job we can do to provide you with quality education, and I hope we’ve done that,” Albrecht said.
Does that mean that there are going to be a lot of jobs waiting for May graduates? “Heck no,” Albrecht said.
“You’re going to have to work harder, going to have to be more patient,” Albrecht said. “You’re going to have to do some things you didn’t think you’d be doing with your college degree until this economy starts to turn.”