Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Morehead State University: Better Than No. 1

In a departure from RSI tradition, I'm posting a comment that is strictly about Morehead State University. This is my analysis of the productivity dimension of Morehead State's "Planning for Greatness" Business Plan.

Morehead State University: Better Than No. 1!

The primary goal of the “Planning for Greatness” Business Plan is to make Morehead State University (MSU) the top-ranked regional state university in the South. “The Business Plan was developed as a financial roadmap to guide Morehead State University in its vision to “become the best public regional university in the South . . .” (Business Plan, 4) Given it’s current position as the top-rated by U. S. News & World Report (Business Plan, 3) regional state university in the South, James Madison University (JMU) of Harrisonburg, Virginia has become a benchmark for MSU.

Specifically, the Business Plan makes Morehead State’s University’s achievement of JMU’s standards for graduating students a cornerstone of MSU’s future success. Currently, JMU generates 24.7 graduates for every 100 full-time enrolled students (FTE’s) where MSU only graduates 16.4 students for every 100 FTE (Business Plan, 8). Thus, JMU seems more “productive” than Morehead State in turning entering students into graduates. The Council on Post-Secondary Education in Kentucky has mandated that Morehead State University increase its annual number of graduates from the current 1,055 per year to 1,799 per year in 2020 (6) as part of its effort to dramatically increase the number of college graduates in Kentucky. To lift the number of graduates to the CPE-mandated target, the Business Plan projects that MSU will need to raise the percentage of students we graduate (or raise our Productivity Index or PI) to a level of 22.3 that is close to that of JMU and increase the number of FTE’s from 7,512 to 11,994.

The Question of University Productivity.
However, productivity for a university is not simply a matter of how many students graduate out of the total pool of full-time students, it is a matter of how many students graduate out of that pool in relation to the expenses the university (and state) pays for educating them. In other words, productivity is also a matter of efficiency.

In relation to the issue of efficiency, the statistics included in the Business Plan clearly indicate that Morehead State University employs its available resources more productively than JMU to help students graduate with undergraduate degrees.

There are two considerations that lead to this conclusion.

First, Morehead State University and James Madison University spend almost exactly the same amount of money per graduating student. Expenditures per graduating student at Morehead State are $78565 which is only 1.27% more than expenditures per graduating student at JMU and might be wholly accounted for by reporting error. JMU spends 32.8% more than Morehead State University per FTE on its students but only gets 33.6% more graduates per 100 FTE’s as a result of the expenditure.

Table 1.

MSU James Madison University University

MSU,16.4--James Madison U, 24.7

Funds per FTE
MSU, $12,886--James Madison U $19,164

Funds per graduate
MSU, $78,565--James Madison U $77,575

Difference in funds per graduate

*numbers for PI and Funds per FTE derived from Business Plan, 16. “Funds per graduate” derived by dividing Funds per FTE by PI.

Table 1 indicates that MSU and James Madison University are equally productive in graduating students in relation to the resources they expend. However, considerations concerning the backgrounds and qualifications of students make it necessary to conclude that Morehead State University is the overall more productive of the two universities. According to a study of educational needs cited by the business plan , 19 out of the 22 counties in Morehead State’s service region have “more critical educational needs” (Business Plan, 12) than the average American county because of their lack of educational attainment, poverty, unemployment, and other factors. In fact, 12 of the counties in Morehead State’s service region are listed among the 100 poorest counties by median household income ( and Kentucky as a whole ranks 46th among the states in median household income (

The Business Plan does not provide information on the educational needs of the region surrounding James Madison University. However, given that Virginia (10th in median household income) is a considerably more prosperous state than Kentucky, it is reasonable to assume that JMU’s immediate region does not have the same high levels of “critical educational needs” as Morehead State’s service region and that students entering JMU have higher scores on standardized tests, more advance placement classes, better overall high school educations, and are generally more prepared for college than students entering Morehead State University. It is noteworthy the SAT scores for students enrolling JMU are in the middle 80% (averaging 1067) ( while the average entering ACT score for Morehead State students is 21, or about the 60th percentile ( Likewise, the Business Plan notes that Morehead State students have a “higher than average number of developmental needs.” (Business Plan, 27)

The relative qualifications of JMU and Morehead State University students are important for considering the “productivity” of a university. Because they are less prepared for college work upon entering MSU, Morehead State students have to make more academic progress to graduate from Morehead State than James Madison students have to make in order to graduate from James Madison University. From the perspective of comparative university analysis, Morehead State University accomplishes considerably more with the $78,565 that it spends for each graduating student than James Madison accomplishes with its $77,575. Because Morehead State brings significantly less qualified students forward to graduation for almost exactly the same cost as James Madison University, Morehead State has to be considered as the more productive university in terms of the outcomes achieved with its resources.

James Madison may be the no. 1 regional state university in the South according to U. S. News & World Report, but Morehead State is a more productive university. In that light, proposals for making Morehead State University more efficient or more productive should not be seen in terms of following James Madison as a role mode. Instead, such proposals should be seen in terms of making Morehead State even more superior to James Madison in terms of “efficiency” and “productivity” than it is now. If anything, James Madison University should be looking to MSU as a model in certain regards.

None of the considerations on “university productivity” offered here are meant to imply that Morehead State University should not seek to grow to a headcount of 12,000 students, graduate a higher percentage of the students we enroll, or employ our resources even more effectively than we do now. However, it is important to recognize that we are dealing with these issues from a position of considerable strength. Given our limited resources, the poverty of Eastern Kentucky, and the relative under-preparation of our entering students, Morehead State University is highly effective at deploying its resources in ways that make it possible for our students to make progress and graduate. This means that Morehead State academic programs, the General Education curriculum, various student support offices, the financial aid office, admissions, and other offices combine to do very well at helping students make progress in their academic programs and graduate. Indeed, we make more productive use of our resources than the No. 1 university of our type—James Madison University of Virginia.

However, I believe that the above comparison with JMU does imply that Morehead State should be careful in its decisions concerning which aspects of its operations need to be changed “at the margins” and which should be thoroughly overhauled or eliminated. Personally, I believe that the general education program at MSU is a successful program that could benefit from tinkering at the margins but might become less effective if it is completely taken apart and re-organized in an experimental fashion. Whether that is the case or not, the University needs to take some care that it doesn’t make its operations less effective rather than more.

The other important point that arises from the comparison with James Madison University is the importance of increasing Morehead State University’s financial resources. There may ultimately turn out to be intervening variables, but it is very striking James Madison spends 1/3 more than Morehead State per student and graduates about a 1/3 higher percentage of its FTE’s. This indicates that we can dramatically revise our programs, but that Morehead State University not going to be able to achieve our goal of graduating about 22.3% of our FTE’s unless we increase our funding by almost 50% above what we have now. We spend $12,886 per FTE at the present point. We’ll have to increase our spending to a James Madison level of more than $19,000 per student if we want James Madison results.


Anonymous said...

So what's your point?

Anonymous said...

Why no repudiation of the plagiarizm mentioned in the comment of the last post?? I would think that a professor would be quick to distance himself from such a brash display of dishonesty. Especially after the guy gloats about being flattered by your comments on his writing. I hope your students don't follow that guy's lead trying to pull one over on you.

Ric Caric said...

You haven't answered the question of whether you're Clio or not.

Anonymous said...

Who is Cleo? And I don't see that question anywhere. Just a reader who is surprised at the brazen plagiarism and lack of respect that guy has for your forum here.

Anonymous said...

wow. that is totally unnecessary. Cleo, if you don't like him use some tact and go after his ideas. What you just did really takes away from your arguments.

Thoughts on plagiarism? Hopefully that was not an MSU student. Looks really bad

Ric Caric said...

Cleo has been banned from this site for some time.

As for the plagiarism issue in relation Todd's post on Jesus and the Founding father's, I saw an accusation of plagiarism but I did not see any justification for that accusation. Providing a link is not enough to justify a claim of plagiarism. The accuser needs to make an argument that any resemblances amount to plagiarism. I say this from experience because I have pursued many plagiarism cases as a professor.

So I ignored it.

Anonymous said...

I follow your blog, but have never felt the need to post until now...

You're saying that by providing the exact link to a site that provides the exact evidence of plagiarism is not enough? Wow, what a great detective you are....