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Dr. David Rudd Oversees Increased Enrollment and Graduation Rates at University of Memphis

The following feature is part of the most recent issue of Memphis Crossroads MagazineClick here to see the full magazine.

Dr. David Rudd, in his second year as president of the University of Memphis, is a trained psychologist and a former Gulf War veteran. He didn’t take a typical academic path to the presidency but his out-of-the ordinary experiences help him deal with what it’s like at the top with a thousand decisions and all eyes on your every step. “It gives you a good sense of perspective, serving during wartime– what’s a significant crisis and what’s not,” he said.

Dr. Rudd, 55, grew up in Arlington, Texas and planned to pursue a military career like his father, a former Marine, but while at Princeton University on a military scholarship he became fascinated with psychology. He went into the Army, where as a clinical psychologist he evaluated soldiers for capacity to serve in combat. After the Gulf War and a simultaneous stint at Texas A&M College of Medicine and the psychotherapy division at Scott & White Clinic and Hospital, he became chairman of the Department of Psychology at Baylor University and then dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science and scientific director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah. He was provost, the chief academic officer, at U of M for three years before the Tennessee Board of Regents selected him to be the 12th person to lead Memphis’ largest university.

Illuminated from a skylight, the portraits of predecessors hang over the grand staircase outside his office. His daily duties typically involve development fund raising and dealing with community partnerships, he said. His time also is spent on student life issues, recruitment and growth on campus and along the periphery.

The closest thing to a crisis at the school so far might have been the $20 million budget gap that Dr. Rudd took on after ascending from provost to president. The shortfall was closed without increasing tuition by historic levels, Dr. Rudd said, so instead of rising 8 percent a year, tuition only went up 2.7 percent last year and 2.3 percent this year.

The school’s new provost, Dr. Karen Weddle-West, said closure of the gap is a great example of one of Dr. Rudd’s key characteristics, the ability “to immediately analyze sources of a problem and quickly propose solutions.” He made hard decisions to overhaul the budget and to promote transparency, she said.

Dr. Rudd is focused on the financial impact to students in regard to tuition because money, not academics, is their most significant challenge. Whether students come to the university and finish with a degree hinges on if they have enough money to do so. Dr. Rudd thinks the growth the university is experiencing now is directly related to keeping costs down.

“We’re well positioned this year,” Dr. Rudd said on move-in day in August. “We’re growing. Our freshman class last year was 2,052. As of today, our freshman class is 2,672. That’s 30 percent growth. It’s the largest freshman class ever.”

Total enrollment for the fall is 21,594, including 4,946 new students (freshman and transfers). For Dr. Rudd, it’s not all about how many enroll, though, but also how many graduate. Three years ago, the university had a 41 percent graduation rate. Now it’s close to 50 percent, and the goal is 65 percent.

Urban colleges traditionally struggle with graduation rates, Dr. Rudd said, but U of M is taking a proactive approach to raising the numbers. One pool of people the university has targeted is former students about a year away from graduating. Officials discovered more than 5,000 of these former students, and more than 300 of them are now U of M graduates. Because they often left due to dwindling financial resources, the university worked to offer alternatives like online classes.

Though tuition reduction has been crucial, the university also has doubled down on university marketing coupled with a broader perspective of what the city has to offer -- a “tremendous opportunity for both personal and professional growth,” Dr. Rudd said. “Not only can you launch a career but make a difference in one of the most diverse and thriving communities in the country.”

Dr. Rudd believes his press. While he came to Memphis for the provost job, he liked what the city as a whole offered when he moved his wife and two children here. “We really enjoy the diversity of the city and the vibrancy of the arts,” said Dr. Rudd who sits on the Greater Memphis Chamber and The Orpheum Theatre Group board of directors.

Dr. Rudd also recently came to sit on the board of directors for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. Gary Shorb is CEO of the health care system and admires the way Dr. Rudd has inserted the U of M into the community. To bolster health science academics at Central High School, for example, the university president offered college credit to the young students. “That’s the kind of creativity he has,” Shorb said. “He’s an innovative leader. He is someone who has tremendous skills in culture building, change management … (and) he’s an extremely effective communicator.”

Story by: Toni Lepeska
Photo by: Troy Glasgow

Posted: 12/6/2016 1:06:33 PM | with 0 comments
Filed under: Chairman's, Circle, Corner, Crossroads, David, Dr., Member, Memphis, of, Office, Rudd, Spotlight, University

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