Northern Kentucky University’s president to leave in December

The university just wrapped up the largest fundraising campaign in its history, but declining undergraduate enrollment is a concern.
Dr. Ashish Vaidya will leave Northern Kentucky University in December.
Dr. Ashish Vaidya will leave Northern Kentucky University in December.(Albert Cesare/The Enquirer)
Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 7:30 PM EST
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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (WXIX) - The president of Greater Cincinnati’s third-largest university will leave next month.

Northern Kentucky University on Thursday following a Board of Regents meeting announced Dr. Ashish Vaidya will depart the university Dec. 19.

The board and Vaidya “determined that the time is now for a leadership transition as the university embarks on a multi-year repositioning effort in response to changing market and financial pressures impacting all of higher education.”

Board chair Rich Boehne issued a statement Thursday night thanking Vaidya. The statement continues in part: “We won’t miss this opportunity for NKU, as it often has in the first 50 years of its adventure, to focus forward and boldly demonstrate its commitment to changing lives and lifting the whole of our community.”

Vaidya assumed the role in July 2018. He is credited with leading the university’s 16,000 students and 2,000 faculty and staff members during a time of transition punctuated by the pandemic.

“It has been a privilege and honor to lead this university over the past four-and-half years,” Vaidya said Thursday night. “Thanks to the great work of the faculty, staff and students, I believe significant progress has been achieved during the past several years.

During Vaidya’s tenure as president, NKU completed its most successful fundraising campaign, navigated a pension crisis, increased housing and affordable housing for its students, earned international recognition for its innovation efforts and raised its athletics profile as a member of the Horizon League.

Federal data from 2016/17-2021/22 show enrollment up 6.7 percent, retention rates up 11 percent and four-year graduation rates up nearly 300 percent (though still fewer than half of students graduate in that span.)

The university also now offers 3,620 degrees of various types, up 35 percent from five years ago. The largest jump is in master’s degrees, thanks in large part to the expansion of online graduate-level offerings.

“The fact that we executed on so many fronts, while navigating a global pandemic, speaks volumes about this institution’s resilience and tenacity,” Vaidya said.

MORE | NKU part of NASA’s mission to explore space elements, matter

But the university is working through an unexpected budget deficit that arose under Vaidya’s watch.

The amount of the deficit remains unclear. A University forecast from June estimated a $5.5 million shortfall in the operating budget. That estimate was revised upwards to $15.9 million in early November. However, NKU officials announced what appears to be a separate or overlapping deficit of $18.7 million in October.

One issue is lower-than-expected enrollment. Graduate enrollment may be increasing, but the university saw a 12.6 percent decline in undergraduate students from 2017-2021, according to the 2023 budget outlook. Current enrollment is unknown.

The budget document cites competition from other universities, fewer high-school graduates overall, declining transfer enrollment from two-year institutions, “soft demand for health care programs” and a strong economic rebound that may be driving part-time students back into the workforce.

How much declining enrollment this year factors into the deficit is unclear. NKU CFO Jeremy Alltop told The Northerner in October the decline accounted for $5 million of the shortfall, but at that time the deficit had not yet been revised upwards.

The Board of Regents approved several deficit-reduction moves at its Nov. 9 meeting, including offering separation agreements to tenured and tenure-track faculty and shuttering the university’s Informatics+ center, which was created in 2019 to connect student talent with the business community. The Informatics+ center fell short of generating the revenue needed to support its operations.

Additional changes include cutting instructional budgets, removing vacant positions and reducing duplicative software packages, according to Alltop. None of those changes require Board approval.

Cutting instructional budgets will be “disruptive” to non-tenure-track faculty, Matt Cecil, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, told The Northerner.

The university is also dealing with a lawsuit from a developer over a mixed-use gateway project, according to our media partners at the Enquirer.

The Cleveland-area developer, Fairmount Properties is claiming NKU “soured” on the project after the developer had already sunk millions into it. Fairmount says the university coordinated with municipal and county officials to hinder the project’s development.

NKU denied the allegations.

“It is disappointing that Fairmount would rather file a lawsuit over this project than actually complete it,” a university statement reads. “Instead of building the vibrant development it promised, and years after it was selected, Fairmount has left NKU with nothing but costs, delays and a vacant site.  Fairmount’s allegations are false, and NKU will vigorously advance its interests in this litigation.”

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