Could Student Support Be Ken Dobbins’ Greatest Legacy?

Could Student Support Be Ken Dobbins' Greatest Legacy?
President Dobbins with Nelson Mwangi, one of Southeats most outstanding upper-class student leaders selected for the Presidents Leadership Academy.

President Dobbins with Nelson Mwangi, one of Southeast’s most outstanding upper-class student leaders selected for the President’s Leadership Academy.

In his 16 years as president, there’s no more powerful story than in helping anyone who truly wanted an education be able to earn one. If you’ve ever had a moment to talk with Dr. Ken Dobbins, you know that conversation will include the impressive work that is occurring at Southeast and how students can always use help in achieving their potential.

“When I first met him, the first thing he talked about was scholarships,” says Earl Holland, friend of Southeast. “I knew it was a passion. I knew that in this region, raising money for scholarships was going to be very difficult for him. But it was a priority for him. Deep down, he wanted to give as many people the opportunity to get an education as possible, and I admire him for doing that.”

Most of those who give to Southeast and support its students and programs tell similar stories of Dobbins’ commitment to helping students fund their education.

“He took a genuine interest in every student he met. I could always tell it made him happy to see students succeed. He is a very good administrator, but I think his true passion is mentoring people and helping them grow, says alumnus Adam Hanna.

Personal growth often requires financial support, and the need to raise funds has never been greater. In the early 1980s, state appropriations made up 80 percent of University revenues with student fees comprising the remaining 20 percent. Today, student fees must account for more than 40 percent of the funding. Recognizing the need to help students so tuition was affordable and students graduated with as little debt as possible, Dobbins turned to friends of the University.

“One of Dr. Dobbins best attributes is his ability to engage alumni and partners and to convince them to support the University,” says Bob Shuck, Foundation Board member. “I am personally aware of that talent as he talked me out of a lot of money and made me like it–not just like it, but enjoy doing it.”

Shuck says he and his wife, Marcy have contributed to the River Campus. The Shuck Music Recital Hall is named for his parents. They have also established a scholarship fund and find meeting with the recipients very rewarding.

Crader agrees that’s been key in keeping alumni engaged. “When alumni visit with students, they see how their dollars are being invested and meet the people whose lives they are helping make better. That’s significant and personal.”

Dobbins understands that no one understands how tough it is to fund an education like current students. Alumnus Ross McFerron says he was prompted to be an active partner from the beginning.

“First, he built a relationship with me when I was a student. Second, he encouraged me to continue my involvement with the University. Finally, he has effectively communicated the needs of the University and the advantages to remaining involved,” McFerron says.

Communicating the needs isn’t something Dobbins just focuses on with alumni. He’s been a strong advocate with the legislature for higher education funding as well.

“Statewide, he has put a strong emphasis on financial assistance for students, for scholarships and grants to support students,” says Mike Nietzel, former president of Missouri State University and current senior policy advisor to Gov. Jay Nixon. “He is a real champion.”

That hard work has seen real dividends. The University Foundation portfolio grew from $1.8 million in 1991 to $22.8 million in 1999. By 2015, it had reached $79.2 million.

Bill Holland of the University Foundation says it now awards $1.5 million in scholarships on an annual basis. “As long as I’ve known him, he always stresses the need for scholarships to help students,” he says. “He and Jeanine know personally how important scholarships are in helping a student attain their degree, and they both have a profound respect for the value of a college degree.”

That became even more of a priority in 2013, with the announcement of the “Honoring Tradition, Inspiring Success” campaign to raise $40 million, the most ambitious fundraising effort in the University’s history. The University Foundation exceeded its campaign goal by more than $5 million in October 2014, eight months prior to the campaign’s end. Due to the overwhelming generosity of donors, 195 new scholarships have been established, which brings the total number the University Foundation supports to 700.

“Honoring Tradition, Inspiring Success” has not wavered from its mission and is now engaging faculty and staff to contribute to the success of the University and future students. The University Foundation and Board of Regents hosted a Celebration Gala to honor the Dobbins in May with proceeds benefiting scholarships. The event raised more than $208,000.

“His creative thinking in pioneering a matching fund program to support scholarships has generated hundreds of scholarship endowments; thereby, assisting students in obtaining an education to better prepare themselves to be more productive in their future endeavors,” says Douglas C. Greene, frequent partner and friend to the University.

Director of Athletics Mark Alnutt says Dr. Dobbins’ support of student-athlete scholarships shows the importance and value he feels Division I athletics bring to a campus, “but more importantly is the fact that we are educating students to help prepare them for life after college and contribute as productive citizens in the surrounding area we serve.”

Diane Sides, associate to the president, says the bottom line is Dobbins understands the need for a student to get a high quality, affordable education beyond just their own personal benefit. “Many of these graduates are now the teachers in our school systems, the police officers in our communities, the physicians, nurses, attorneys, business owners, farmers, entrepreneurs and leaders of our cities and towns.”

That’s a pretty lasting legacy.

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