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Lincoln University gets ready for new school year

Lincoln University gets ready for new school year

August 13th, 2017 by Bob Watson in Local News

Lorenzo Beach, center, helps move freshmen into Dawson Hall on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017 at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Beach was elected Mr. Lincoln University 2017 and was on hand to help welcome new students.

Photo by Shelby Kardell /News Tribune.

Lincoln University freshmen moved into their dorms Saturday, getting ready for the week-long orientation known as "Roar Week."

Classes for all students begin Aug. 21.

Faculty and staff members began getting ready for the new school year last week, with their annual Fall Institute.

Jerome Offord, LU's dean of Administration and Student Affairs, said he's optimistic about this year's incoming class.

"This year's freshman class seems to be at a level that we want it to be — which is around 550-560 students," he reported, noting 308 students already have enrolled.

"We don't know (final numbers) until they show up," Offord explained. "There's no way to figure out that they're going to come until they're actually here, enrolled in classes, moved into the residence halls and they go to class."

The official census of students in all classes — including those attending graduate-level classes — comes at the end of September.

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By then, he hopes to have resolved another issue his office is facing.

"Our good problem to have," Offord said last week, is, "based on the applications and students who said they want a room and space on campus, we have exceeded occupancy" for the university's residence halls.

Offord's staff is looking for alternative housing, if the over-capacity situation continues after classes begin. With a few exceptions for those who live in the Mid-Missouri area, LU's freshmen and sophomores are required to live on campus — so they get first priority on residence hall rooms.

James M. Smith, director of LU's Student Health and Wellness Services, told fellow faculty and staff members Lincoln continues to provide educational opportunities to students who come from families and backgrounds where education hasn't been a priority.

"These are the students who we're going to notice, because they're the ones who are struggling," he said.

Still, Smith said, in many ways Lincoln University students are like 10,000 others who attend Missouri colleges and universities.

LU is one of 21 schools involved with "Partners In Prevention," a grant-funded coalition based at the University of Missouri.

Every year, the coalition takes a "rather long," anonymous survey of students at all 21 schools, Smith explained.

"It focuses on helping campuses promote health, wellness, and alcohol, drug and violence prevention," he said. "What you're going to see here at Lincoln University is that our numbers are pretty comparable to the other universities that participated."

But even students have problems discerning perception from reality.

"Three out of four of our students believe that the typical student at Lincoln University smokes marijuana about once or twice a month," Smith reported, and "two-thirds of our students believe that the typical student smokes marijuana once or twice a week."

But, based on students' answers about their own actual use, he said: "The reality is that only about 5 percent of our students said they smoked on a weekly basis."

The majority of LU students answering the survey said the typical Lincoln student has "anywhere between four to eight sexual partners in a year's time," he said, while "30 percent said they haven't had any sexual partners in the last year. And, if you include one to two sexual partners in the last year, it is about 60-65 percent."

As with many things in life, Smith said, the "perception problem" occurs because we pay attention mainly to "people engaging in behaviors that are different from the behaviors we engage in."

Lincoln, Smith reported, doesn't "have as big an issue with alcohol as the other schools. Our marijuana rate is just a little bit higher — but not significantly."

LU Police Chief Gary Hill told the Faculty-Staff Institute his officers will be most effective when the school's teachers and staff report issues to them.

"We want to make this (campus) an educationally safe environment (where) we all can feel safe," Hill said.

He said alcohol and drugs remain "big issues for us" — the majority of issues LU's police dealt with last year were alcohol or drug-related — as are harsh words or fights between students.

"Remember, a lot of you guys go home at 6 (or) 7 o'clock," Hill noted. "But the campus is still open (with) about 900 to 1,100 students still on campus after you go home.

"So, the little bitty problems that you see in the hallways and the classrooms (often) carry-over into the nights and the weekends."

Knowing about them when they occur often will prevent them from becoming bigger issues later, he said.

Sheila Gassner, LU's facilities and design director, reported The Linc wellness center is complete, and the renovations to Dwight T. Reed Stadium should be finished soon.

Still underway are construction of four new tennis courts on the northwest corner of Dunklin and Lafayette streets, and the rebuilding of the Dickinson Research Center, which was heavily damaged in a July 2015 fire.

Chief Financial Officer Sandy Koetting reminded LU's faculty and staff the school still faces tight finances.

She noted Lincoln has a total $33.52 million budget for the 2017-18 school year, with the state's $17.32 million appropriation providing about 52 percent of the total, while tuition and fees provide another 44 percent of the operating budget.

"The prior year's budget was $3.8 million more than this," Koetting said, "so we're operating on a much smaller scale than we have in past years."

A 9 percent cut in state appropriations and enrollment declines — about 10 percent over the last decade for undergraduates and 28 percent for graduate students — are the main reasons for this year's reduced operating dollars, she explained.

LU is dipping into its reserves for about $500,000 to balance its budget in the new business year, Koetting said, noting the school eventually must put that money back.

At 12 credit hours a semester, the average student pays about $5,000 a year in tuition, she said. "In order to make-up this $500,000, we're going to need 100 additional students in the fall and then retain them in the spring."

Still, she said, Lincoln "is still one of the most affordable and accessible institutions in the state of Missouri. We have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these students that we interact with on a daily basis."