By DANA LARSEN
As University President Fred Moore stolls down the sidewalk in front of the familiar chapel spire, the sun is shining brightly on Buena Vista University, both literally and figuratively.
In the midst of hard economic times in Iowa, the university is bursting with good news, from a sixth enrollent record in eight years to the prospects for a new Student Center building; from a rebounding endowment fund to $12 million in donations received in the past year; from a landmark Science Center on pace to open next fall to an increase in long-sought ethnic diversity on campus.
"It's an exciting way to begin the year," Moore smiled, sitting down with media this week to reflect on the campus' well-being. "The feeling on campus is really wonderful."
Some of the highlights:
* Enrollment - "I'm very pleased to see us set our sixth record in eight years for enrollment, especially with the environment so competitive in higher education in Iowa," Moore said. "We have 380 freshmen, our second highest total ever, and over a three-year run, our enrollment trend is unmatched in our history."
As the academic year begins, BVU is basically full to the rafters, with no additional space for faculty offices, classes, or student living space. The new Science Center should help with academic space needs, but the school will have to consider additional residence halls, to the tune of $3.5 million each.
At about 1,350 students, BVU has steadily grown by some 300 students over the past decade, but Moore said the university has not lost its tight-knit, small campus appeal. "We still have that feeling. There does come a point in growth where it gets harder to do that, but we are not in danger of reaching that point now," Moore said.
Enrollment at centers around the state is also up slightly.
* Diversity - About 30 students on campus represent a variety of ethnic minorities, a development goal BVU has started to pursue in recent years. "We are quickly building a critical mass of diversity, and we are doing it without spending the hundreds of thousands of dollars that some schools are putting into such recruiting. We do feel the diversity will enrich the experience for everyone here," Moore said.
* Recruiting - BVU's appeal has grown beyond the state's borders. Two years ago, only 15 percent of students came from outside Iowa. Last year, that grew to 20 percent, this year, it stands at 28 percent, including 55 students from Minnesota. Transfers are also up, with 72 students this fall coming to BVU from other schools.
Incoming students this year average between 3.35 and 3.4 in high school grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and represent largely the top 30 percent of their graduating classes. However, Moore said that admission decisions are not entirely based on grades. "We will take appropriate risks when we see something special there in a student."
* Retention - BVU is also hanging on to more students. About 55 percent that start college there graduate at BVU within five years, a "respectable" rate among Iowa schools, Moore said. The figure does not reflect students who transfer to finish elsewhere.
* Student Center - Shaping up as a future priority is the construction of a new Student Center building. Moore is not yet sure what such a building will include, but campus officials will begin to visit other campuses to see what elements work. "Central to such a facility would be a gathering place for students, a place they can call their own," the president said.
While the Forum building has some such elements, it is also used by many outside groups. "In talking with the students, they do need a place," Moore said.
Current thinking is to build a free-standing building rather than try to convert existing space. Moore said that the university owns enough land already to build such a Student Center, but did not rule out BVU buying up certain additional houses around the perimeter of the campus if they become available. He also stress that the discussion on a Student Center remains in the very early stages of planning.
* Expansion Outside Iowa - Moore said that BVU had received an invitation from Oklahoma to establish its first center location outside Iowa. The decision has been made not to pursue that invitation, for reasons Moore said he does not wish to reveal. He did not rule out expansion out of the state to other locations.
* Future Teachers - With a shortage of educators on the horizon, BVU's incoming class is showing very strong numbers of freshmen planning for education careers. Elementary education will be the largest single major in terms of student numbers this year.
* Fundraising - Moore said that BVU raised a remarkable $12 million in donations in the past year, including contributions toward the Science Center completion. Giving by alumni of the Storm Lake campus has increased by 3 percent in the past year. "We have struggled with that in the past. Rome wasn't built in a day, but we are happy with the increase we are showing, especially in the current soft economy," he said.
* American Heritage Lecture Series - The school is thrilled to have Bob Woodward, of Watergate reporting fame, speaking October 24. Moore noted that the guest has recently released the book, "Bush at War," and recommends it as "a great read."
* Online - The university debuts a new interactive website this fall at bvu.edu. The website has become second only to the college visit in impact on students' decisions to attend a school, and is a critical device for attracting top faculty from around the nation, Moore said. The university is also considering an increased emphasis in on-line classes. About six such classes are now offered, and more could be developed, probably in partnership with the state's community colleges to allow those students to proceed toward four-year degrees from locations around the state.
* Endowment - Having peaked at $124 million, BVU's endowment shrunk to $76 million for the last calendar year as the investment market suffered. That in turn reduced the university's spending options on programs and people, Moore said. The endowment has now rebounded to $94 million, thanks in part to an effort to diversify the school's holdings. The last ending budget was hit right on target, Moore said, thanks to efforts from faculty and staff to become even better stewards of the institution's funds.
* Science Center - Moore called the emerging state-of-the-art building "spectacular and imposing." He reported that construction is right on schedule. The building should be turned over to faculty next summer, and will be ready to host classes in the fall of 2004. Members of the School of Science held their first faculty meeting in the facility recently - hard hats and all. After completion, the old Science building will be converted for other uses to provide needed classrooms and office spaces.
* Smith Hall - Work continues on a small addition to Smith Hall, which will house an elevator and should make the building fully disability-accessible, Moore said. Other new additions this year include a new food servery in the Forum.
* Bridges - Buena Vista University continues to attract a lot of attention with its new Bridges cultural program, which will focus each year on classes and activities reflecting a certain geographical area of the world. This year features Latin America, including a student trip to Cuba, just recently opened for U.S. travel. "It is a marvelous opportunity, the academy at its finest," Moore beamed. "Sometimes the best way to learn about our own environments is to experience those of others."
* Rumors - Moore noted a rumor that BVU was making a large contribution to the Trans Ova corporation, the recipient of a large Vision Iowa gift. While Moore said he respects that company and admires the Vision Iowa concept of promoting biotechnology, he said the rumor involving BVU funds is false.