The second of four finalists for Montana State University Billings' chancellor position said at a Tuesday open forum that one of the most important aspects of the job is understanding and fostering the individual culture of the university.
"The key piece is to get to an understanding of the culture here," Dr. Michael Droge said.
Rolf Groseth announced in January that he plans to retire in May after three years as MSUB chancellor.
Running the forum for a crowd of about 40 people at the MSUB library, Droge laid out his thoughts on reaching Gov. Steve Bullock's goal of increasing the number of Montanans with post-secondary certificates, from either two- or four-year institutions from 40 to 60 percent and answered questions from the audience.
Droge is president of Park University in Parkville, Mo., a position he's held since 2009.
He started the forum with a 30-minute presentation on increasing the number of Montanans with a post-secondary certificate, a topic on which the first candidate, Dr. Ricardo Maestas of the Texas State University System, also presented.
Increasing those numbers, which is also part of a similar national effort, comes down to affordability, flexibility and being supportive in a personalized way, Droge said.
That starts with making it easier to access higher education through making education cost effective and efficient to keep costs down, finding more state funding, partnering with other organizations and groups, sharing resources and financial aid support.
"That access must be inclusive to all groups of people," he said.
On the flexibility front, he said it's important to find ways to reach out to groups such as working adults to create schedules and opportunities that work for them that could include items like earning credits through work experience or competency-based education.
Convincing students that it's worth the cost and time to earn a degree and educating them on the overall process is also important, Droge said.
"How a university recruits students impacts retention, which of course impacts how they cross the finish line," Droge said.
One way to help address that, he said, is to create a personalized experience for students that helps match them up with the right major and gives them a plan for their entire time in college.
"The common thread is nurturing the relationship between individual students and the institution," he said.
The second half of the session featured questions from the audience. In answering many of the questions, Droge said it's important to understand the culture of the university.
When asked about how he creatively helped solve a problem in his current job, he mentioned the government shutdown in 2013, which stopped tuition payments for about 8,000 active-duty military Park students — the university has distance learning campuses around the country — before the start of the fall semester.
The university addressed the problem by creating a new, alternate fall semester that started three weeks later, after the shutdown ended and funding was restored, which allowed about 750 students to enroll in 3,000 course hours.
"Within 72 hours, the university was able to create a new semester with 58 courses," Droge said.
In answering other questions, he said innovation is an integral part of any university's culture, that athletics play an important role in student development and recruiting and that he'd look forward to the chance to work with MSUB's American Indian population.
He also said it's important to build a culture of excellence.
"Leadership is about bringing people together around a shared vision and then helping people succeed under that shared vision," Droge said.
Droge is also a finalist for president of Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan., according to The Hays Daily News.
Two more candidates will visit campus this week, with each hosting an open forum at 4:30 p.m. on the day they visit in the MSUB library building, room 148.
Margaret Madden, provost and vice president for academic affairs and a professor at State University of New York, visits on Wednesday, while the final candidate, University of Wisconsin System senior vice president for academic affairs Mark Nook, visits MSUB on Friday.
After the visits, the 18-member search committee will make a recommendation to Montana State University President Waded Cruzado, who will make a final hiring decision.