MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - University of Memphis President Dr. M. David Rudd told the Memphis Rotary Club that "the University is producing over 4,000 graduates a year and we're on pace to continue that."
Rudd told Rotarians that when he arrived on campus four years ago, the University was losing many students in their fourth and fifth year of studies.
"When you're losing students at a 15, 16 percent rate, there is a problem," Rudd said. "We studied the problem in detail. It wasn't about academic ability. It was about affordability and about financial wellbeing."
Rudd said the U of M now has very marginal rates of attrition.
"You will see us going the extra mile to see people finish a degree," Rudd said.
The university president said too many U of M students are working 40 hours a week while taking a full academic load.
"That is remarkably hard to balance," Rudd said.
In an effort to reduce financial pressure on students and improve retention and graduation rates, the University launched a new initiative in August 2017.
The University of Memphis Research Foundation has a wholly owned subsidiary called UMRF Ventures, Inc.
"What Ventures allows us to do as a private company with a private board… is bid on contracts to do work," Rudd said. "So, we're running a call center, a technology call center for FedEx."
A University news release offered further details of the FedEx call center.
"Once operational, student employees at the support center will handle support calls from FedEx team members, including 'first level' technical support, like phone configuration and basic application and computing device troubleshooting," the University news release said.
The call center will be located inside the University's FedEx Institute of Technology, employing an average of twenty students from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., 365 days a year.
The University is actively seeking other contracts for student employees of the UMRF Ventures call center.
"We will announce in December a series of contracts we received to do similar work like this call center," Rudd said.
It is hoped that one day the on-campus employment opportunities through Ventures will create 500 jobs for students.
"Not only does it help us be successful but it helps us educate students and it also creates a pipeline for all these different organizations," Rudd said of FedEx and other employers who may one day connect with the Ventures operation at the U of M.
Ventures has the ability to drug test students, something a public university -- as an entity of the state of Tennessee -- cannot do.
Rudd said Ventures recently put out the word that would hire five additional student employees at the call center at nearly $20 an hour.
"Within minutes, we received 60 applications from students. Then we sent a follow-up e-mail saying one of the requirements is you have to be drug tested. 30 of those applicants withdrew," Rudd said.
So, among other benefits, the private on-campus employer at the U of M offers students a wake-up call on the real world demands of American business.
Without offering details, Rudd also told Rotarians meeting at Clayborn Temple Downtown that the University intends to establish a new style of scholarship to be announced in December or January 2018.
"We are working on a new initiative now: a persistent scholarship. We'll help you persist to graduation," Rudd said.
A recently retired senior executive from International Paper, Tom Kadien, is CEO of UMRF Ventures, Inc.