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Posted on: February 22, 2023

Setting “Big, Audacious Goals”: New K-State President Tackles Economic Prosperity

Linton, Richard

From the day he accepted the job, Linton has been a tireless advocate and supporter of the institution’s efforts to meet a challenge from the Kansas Board of Regents to create new jobs and strengthen the state’s economy. This challenge led K-State to set a goal of creating 3,000 new jobs and providing a $3 billion dollar boost to the entire state economy by 2030.

In early 2023, Linton reports the university, with the support of regional partners such as the Greater Manhattan Economic Partnership, is well on its way to meeting those goals. K-State has created a dashboard so the public can follow its progress.

“The Economic Prosperity Plan builds on our strengths — and not just what makes K-State a state leader, but a national leader,” Linton said. “And it’s working. We’re attracting companies that want to work in Kansas with our faculty and students, that want to tap into their expertise in our areas of strength. As a land-grant university, it makes sense to build upon our foundational mission of teaching, research and service to catapult Kansas’ economy forward.”

Those core areas of strength that differentiate K-State from peer universities include food and agricultural systems innovation, digital agriculture and advanced analytics, and biosecurity and biodefense. Within these core fields, the university is seeking to expand its public-private partnerships, either through collaborative research and programs on campus or through companies locating near faculty and students in The Edge Collaboration District.

The Edge District consists of the K-State Office Park located across Kimball Avenue from the Bill Snyder Family Stadium and other K-State athletics facilities, as well as the K-State Research Park adjacent to the federal National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.  

Furthermore, K-State has launched K-State 105, a comprehensive economic growth and advancement solution that leverages new and existing institutional partnerships alongside the university’s established K-State Research and Extension presence across the state to more broadly connect university resources to business and community needs. K-State 105 fuses together innovation and entrepreneurial ideas with research-driven expertise, provides statewide access to ongoing support, knowledge and technical solutions; and engages in the business creation and workforce development that will propel Kansas businesses and communities forward.

In addition to efforts in the immediate Manhattan region, K-State and NetWork Kansas are partnering to create a statewide network of committed, creative partners to advance community vitality, increase small business startups, expand existing businesses and increase direct investment in all 105 counties in the state. Learn more about this initiative at https://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/2023-01/NetWork-Kansas-partnership11723.html

“K-State is fully committed to this partnership and its mission. Together, we will advance prosperity in every corner of this great state,” Linton said.

Overall, Linton’s vision is multi-faceted, interdisciplinary and dependent on growth in several key areas, including partnerships with industry, improvement of facilities and an increase in undergraduate enrollment.

 

Growing Industry Partnerships

Building partnerships with private industry and other government entities is not a new concept for Linton. Prior to arriving at K-State, Linton served for a decade as the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. During his tenure, NC State set a goal to build a best-in-the-world plant sciences building, at a time he describes as plagued with significant budget cuts, disenfranchised faculty and a lack of momentum.

“I’ve learned when you set a highly ambitious goal, that’s when other people start to feel energized and join in,” Linton said.

NC State achieved its goal of raising the money to build the facility, which opened in 2022. This project has successfully attracted agriculture-related companies such as Bayer, BASF, SAS and Novozymes to work alongside NC State faculty and students. Looking back, Linton said the plant sciences project became the cornerstone of a job creation effort estimated to bring 38,000 jobs and more than $10 billion to the Raleigh economy.

“If we can make something like this happen at K-State, this stepping forward of our research effort and competitive nature of the work we do, we’ll grow exponentially overnight,” Linton said. “This is a culture transformation that we hope to have happen over the next several years.”

Building New and Improved Facilities

A key component of increasing research partnerships that build statewide economic prosperity will be attracting and keeping the best and brightest faculty and students. While K-State has some of the leading ag-related programs in the nation, many of its aging facilities don’t currently reflect the quality of the work done in them.

Therefore, Linton’s team has created a plan to raze and replace two buildings — including Shellenberger Hall and a livestock facility adjacent to Weber Hall — as well as to renovate and modernize several others. Linton said having top-notch facilities is key to attracting and retaining world-class students and faculty to K-State.

Shellenberger is home to the Department of Grain Science and Industry, as well as the International Grains Program. This department is one of the few in the world to offer bachelor’s degrees in baking science, milling science and feed science and management.

“The programs and opportunities offered within the walls of Shellenberger Hall may be No. 1 in the world,” Linton said, “but the facility was built in 1960, and that doesn’t communicate No. 1 in the world to anyone.”

A new facility will be built between the current Weber and Call halls, both of which will be significantly renovated as well. Together, the three-building complex will become the Global Center for Grain and Food Innovation.

The possible economic dividends of that proximity makes Linton excited about K-State’s future in agriculture.   

“All of these disciplines will be in one complex, which will support the integration of grain science and food science. The value of that is the exponential growth of the work we can do to solve the grand global challenges of agriculture,” Linton said. “When you can walk across a hallway to work with someone, great things happen.”

The plan also includes a new agronomy building on Kimball Avenue next to the current Grain Science Center in The Edge District. This will bring together researchers in industry, commodity organizations, the Kansas Department of Agriculture and university faculty to support both basic and applied sciences.

“The long-term vision of these groups working together can only help build the economy of this state,” Linton said.

Increasing Undergraduate Enrollment

Growing K-State’s student headcount is key to increasing the university’s bottom line — but it’s also a critical component of ensuring the state’s employers have the skilled talent they need to thrive, both now and in the future.

Like many universities and colleges nationwide, K-State reached its peak undergraduate on-campus enrollment in 2014 and has declined in student headcount ever since. For Linton, reversing this enrollment trend is his primary goal, a challenging task in a state that has flat overall population growth and an aging citizenry. Currently, about 80 percent of K-State’s undergraduate student population comes from Kansas.

While K-State continues to be the top choice for Kansas high school graduates, a declining high-school population coupled with a decreasing rate of students enrolling in college made it clear to Linton and his team that it would take a significant change of strategy to boost student enrollment.

“There are just not enough students in Kansas to be sustainable, so we’ve got to increase numbers of out-of-state students, while also articulating the value of higher education to capture as many in-state students as we can.”

Part of Linton’s strategy includes intentional visits across the state to reconnect with communities and demonstrate K-State's commitment to Kansas. Other efforts to solve the recruitment challenge include a sweeping overhaul of tuition structures for both in-state and out-of-state students, a new approach to and structure for recruitment and directly tackling the affordability of higher education. For instance, K-State currently offers $72 million in scholarships and awards.

Already, the university is seeing returns on the recruitment front, with a 2% increase in incoming freshmen for fall 2022, the first uptick in nine years. K-State is also now admitting more students of color, including a 14% increase in Black student enrollment and a 6% increase in Hispanic students. The average ACT and high school GPAs of incoming students are also significantly higher than they were a decade ago.

“We are seeing many positive indicators,” Linton said. “A 10% increase in the number of applications with more diversity and higher quality of students are encouraging signs. Now we’ll continue working to make sure we see those students’ faces on campus next fall.”

In addition to increasing on-campus undergraduate enrollment, Linton is challenging faculty to explore other ways the university can serve lifelong learners, including mid-career adults already working in industry.

“What about other kinds of learners — do they need credentials, certificate programs? What about the 45-year-old employee at Cargill who’d like to elevate their career by learning about data analytics, a field which didn’t even exist when they were in college? We need to identify these needs and step up to capitalize on these opportunities, too.”

Creating a Culture of Collaboration

Linton’s challenge to the university to think differently, ask different questions, build Kansas’ economy and look across disciplines to solve problems is driving changes across all the campuses. K-State’s culture of collaboration makes the university attractive to industry partners such as Scorpius BioManufacturing, which announced in 2022 it would build a new manufacturing facility in Manhattan, adding 500 new jobs with an average salary of over $75,000. According to Linton, much of the Scorpius decision had to do with the willingness of K-State and Manhattan Area Technical College to work together to educate and train the employees the new facility will need.

“When the Scorpius folks came to Kansas after visiting 17 locations, they knew this was the location they were looking for almost immediately. It’s in our nature to be a partner,” Linton said. “Our leadership team has years of experience at several land-grant universities, and we have learned what to do and what not to do. Now we have the best practices in place and will be using those going forward.”

“Across the board, I feel like we’re headed in the right direction. I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we’ve created and can’t wait to see where things go next.”

 

To explore ways your company can partner with K-State, please reach out to Rebecca Robinson at K-State Innovation Partners at spexarth@k-state.edu.  

To learn more about opportunities to locate in the Manhattan region, contact Daryn Soldan at the Greater Manhattan Economic Partnership at daryn@manhattan.org

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