Advanced engineering degrees, financial stability and making acceptance letters more exciting were among the topics discussed at a barbecue hosted by University of Texas of the Permian Basin President Sandra Woodley.

Held in the Student Activity Center, the event drew a large crowd and a variety of questions.

Woodley said part of the strategic focus in the next couple of years is financial stability for UTPB. She added that UTPB is trying to increase the number of students who “stay and pay.”

She said the university is on a “bit of a financial watch.”

“It’s not a big tragedy,” but Woodley said it is not a designation she wants.

She said at Wednesday’s event that she knows there are needs across campus and right now, money for recruiting and retaining students is being prioritized. Woodley said most of a staff meeting earlier this week was focused on the cost of living.

“We want to provide a salary adjustment starting with those in our university who are the lowest paid,” Woodley said. As the university progresses, it has to pay market rate, but a separate problem is making sure the faculty and staff can afford to live and work in Odessa.

She said she didn’t know what the proposal would look like, but she expects to be able to increase enrollment in the next five years, which would help ensure that faculty and staff would make a market wage.

For students, Woodley said officials are working to carve out more than the required amount for needs-based financial aid.

Asked whether students could be discouraged from transferring, she said UTPB has to consider the interest of the students. Woodley added that the school needs to do everything it can to improve the student experience.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Heimmermann said in the past couple of years UTPB has invested in additional high-quality, tenure track faculty in geology.

“Geology is intimately linked to the industries in the area. One of the visions I have … is for us to continue to work with industry to develop a center for energy here at UT Permian Basin … which would be so natural for us to do. It would be a convener of all those disciplines that serve the energy industry” and he’d like to include his own area of expertise, history.

In ensuring the quality of programs at UTPB, Heimmermann said various areas have professional accreditations and he doesn’t see diluting the already high quality programs at the expense of new ones.

“As I mentioned earlier, we will continue to develop new programs, graduate programs. Shortly, I believe we’ll have our first doctoral program, as well,” Heimmermann said.

Heimmermann said he also foresees a master’s degree in mechanical engineering being offered.

On a separate topic, Heimmerman said the finance courses won’t be shut down at UTPB due to lack of students and that it is one of the most productive areas of the school.

Working to develop leaders from those who work at UTPB and in the community is something Woodley is working on with the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute. She said an initiative on this is in the planning stages.

M.J. Huebner, interim vice president of enrollment management, said her office is working on making acceptance letters more exciting. She said a lot of information is included in the letters and it is one of the most important messages in people’s lives, so she would like to amplify those messages.

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