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Cali Owings, Published April 04 2014

President candidate Vargas-Aburto says he would bring a student-centered approach to MSUM

MOORHEAD – Carlos Vargas-Aburto wants to bring a truly student-centered approach to Minnesota State University Moorhead as its next president.

In his presentation before the public as one of three finalists to lead MSUM, Vargas-Aburto said maintaining a tradition of serving students and meeting their needs will help the school be successful in the future.

Since taking on duties as vice president for student affairs three years ago in addition to his role as provost at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, Vargas-Aburto said he uses students as a resource in his decision-making.

“I have been increasingly concerned with trying to operationalize the definition of student-centeredness. We talk about being student-centered institutions. The question is, what do we mean by that?”

He said that approach means responding to the needs of students, even if something has been done the same way for 15 years, to facilitate their success.

Schools that fail to address student needs face declining enrollment, he said.

“It’s now not just their problem, it is now our problem,” Vargas-Aburto said. “Students are leaving and, different from the past where there was always a student behind the one that left, now we don’t have that student around.”

He said developing a mutual understanding of what a student-centered approach means at the school could also help to invigorate the staff, faculty and administrators with a united purpose.

To turn around the school’s recent enrollment losses, Vargas-Aburto said it’s important to recruit students who are likely to be successful.

“Strategic enrollment management has to do not with just increasing enrollment,” he said. “Strategic enrollment management has to do with bringing the right type of student to the institution.”

As a leader, Vargas-Aburto said he’s good at fixing problems.

“I happen to believe that I am good at helping to bring coherence into challenges that exist, asking the right questions and putting in place approaches and mechanisms that are going to be helpful for the institution. I believe that is what Moorhead needs right now.”

He said many of the challenges at MSUM require a change of culture and he’s excited about trying to bring about that change.

He said he wants to help start a conversation that helps the school identify how it wants to be perceived and to achieve those goals.

Earlier this week, Anne Blackhurst, the school’s current provost, and Sam Minner, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Radford (Va.) University, also gave public presentations. As part of the search process, those who attended the forums are invited to submit feedback to the chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The form is available online and due Monday.

The chancellor is scheduled to make a recommendation for the position to the MnSCU board of trustees at its April 23 meeting.

More information: Visit www.mnstate.edu/presidential-search/ to complete an online evaluation of the presidential candidates.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599