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Simmons focuses on students in convocation

convoLamar University President James Simmons had three words for faculty and staff attending the annual back-to-school convocation Monday (Aug. 20, 2012): Recruit. Retain. Graduate.

Students were the focus of Simmons’ 2012 state-of-the-university message – his 14th semester-opening presentation and his last as Lamar president before his retirement on Jan. 31, 2013.  A capacity audience of more than 500 gathered in the University Theatre for the convocation. Classes begin Aug. 27.

Simmons had good news for his audience: Fall enrollment has increased from last year, despite greatly enhanced admission requirements. “We’re a little surprised,” he said. “We were anticipating a decline because we raised the entrance requirements.”

Simmons said he anticipates a challenging legislative session ahead, especially for higher education, when legislators convene in Austin Jan. 8, 2013. But, he said, “Lamar University should be in much better shape than in the past because of the student semester hours we’re going to produce this year, which is a ‘counting year,’ (on which state funding is based) and those we produced this summer. We’re anticipating we should enter and exit this legislative session in better shape than we have in the past.”

This will depend on three things, he said: “Our ability to recruit students, because, however you look at it, the state bases the formula on numbers; on our ability to retain students; and on our ability to graduate students because graduation rates are going to become ever more important as we look to the future.”

To enhance its student outcome-oriented efforts, Simmons said, Lamar has redesigned its recruitment, registration, orientation and student-support services into the Strategic Enrollment Management Division.  An aggressive lower-division advisement approach is a focal point of those efforts, he said.

Simmons cited several examples of student achievements, including Beck Fellows and their research projects, a student who flew on NASA’s zero-gravity aircraft before interning at BP and others who will enter doctoral programs at some of the country’s most prestigious universities.

“The legacy of this administration is not the bricks and mortar but the students,” he said. “I have had the honor of shaking hands with literally thousands of students who came to Lamar from all around the world who have walked across our stage (to accept degrees) and gone on to wonderful lives. That is the kind of legacy that most presidents want to leave behind.”

Meanwhile, he said, “Faculty continue to produce scholarly books, articles, papers and intellectual properties and grants, while others created works of fine art and music.” 

Among honors and distinctions:

* USA Today reported Lamar is ranked ninth of 1,617 instutions nationwide in online education degrees awarded.

* The journal Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education reported that Lamar ranks No. 1 nationally in master of education degrees awarded to Hispanics.

* Lamar’s MBA program was scored among the Aspen Institute’s “Global 100" ranking, Lamar’s third consecutive year among these top programs.

* Again, Lamar ranked No. 1 in the nation for awarding master’s degrees in chemical engineering.

* Reflecting Lamar’s designation by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a Doctoral Research University, LU now has 250 doctoral students, the most in The Texas State University System – and, Simmons said, “We are growing.” 

For the first time, the Southland Conference awarded Lamar the Commissioner’s Cup Men’s All-Sport Trophy, based on the number of places earned in all men’s sports.

And, Simmons added, these achievements have not gone unnoticed; alumni and friends have contributed more than $100 million to the university’s Investing in the Future comprehensive campaign.

Besides bringing good news on enrollment, Simmons announced all faculty and staff will receive one-time payments in their October checks, based on 1 percent, with a $600 minimum and $1,000 maximum. “I know we’ve been told for several years to tighten our budget because of economic pressures,” he said. “Hopefully, the future will be brighter.”

Simmons reflected on his retirement, in which he plans to devote more time to family. With three new grandchildren (two of them twins), he and his wife, Susan, will have nine grandchildren.

“This has been an extremely difficult decision for Susan and me,” he said. “This has really been a dream job – to have this opportunity to serve as president in our hometown and to have a 42-year history with an institution is very special and unique.”