The State of the University Address highlighted many areas in which UCM is doing well, but the message, while at times congratulatory, was focused more on the importance of maintaining forward momentum and remaining vigilant as the landscape of higher education continues to evolve.
UCM President Roger Best delivered his second State of the University Address, his first since officially assuming the presidency, on Aug. 29 in the James L. Highlander Theatre.
Best alluded to the six areas of focus he identified in his 2018 State of the University Address and relayed some of the results from those areas.
He said while there was an almost 7 percent decline in headcount in the fall 2018 semester, the university began and ended the 2019 fiscal year with a balanced budget. After the address, he said the university had not ended the fiscal year with a balanced budget in the three years prior, which culminated in cost-cutting measures in the 2018 fiscal year.
Best said as of Aug. 28 the university is within 98 percent of the fall tuition revenue forecast and he said he expects to be within 99 percent by the end of the fall. Additionally, he said the state of Missouri allocated an additional $1 million to the university’s core appropriations.
It was because of the budget cuts in the 2018 fiscal year that he felt it was important to mention the balanced budget.
“That’s the reason to highlight it, considering what we faced in previous years,” he said after the address. “For people who were here during the time when we cut the budget significantly. One reason I wanted to highlight where we were with the revenue versus the forecasted revenue is if you see a decline in enrollment, the natural inclination is to think, ‘Uh oh, we’re going to have to cut money out of our budget.’ So, I wanted to ensure that everyone knew our budget officers had accounted for this likelihood.”
Best said approximately 3,400 students graduated at the end of last year. He also said the current fall-to-fall retention rate for first time students who began in the fall 2018 semester is over 74 percent, an all-time high for the university; in the fall 2018 semester, the fall-to-fall retention rate for first time students who began in the fall 2017 semester was just under 70 percent.
He said enrollment needs to be the primary focus. Headcount in the fall 2019 semester is estimated to be down about 3 percent from the fall 2018 semester, though that number won’t be finalized until the census in mid-September.
While competition from other institutions has contributed to this decline, Best said there is a bigger issue.
Citing data from Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Best said the number of high school graduates in the Midwest is expected to continue to decline until 2032, with an acceleration of that decline expected in 2026.
Best said there were some enrollment gains.
“In our numbers, there is good news,” he said. “We see positive movement in our graduate student and our international graduate student populations, and we are very pleased with that because there was intentionality in focusing on those groups in this last year.”
Even with the progress made in certain areas, Best said he is not satisfied with current declines.
“Let me state, unequivocally, that I am not content with this level of loss in headcount,” he said.
He didn’t give specific details because he didn’t want to tip the university’s hand to competing institutions, but he said the administration is aware of enrollment trends and have implemented strategies to counter the short-term losses.
During the address, Best praised the faculty and staff for their work in promoting high quality programs, offering UCM’s recognition by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report as one of the best institutions in the region as evidence.
Additionally, he said the UCM Foundation received more than $6.6 million in new gifts and pledges, which is about a 26 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.
Best said the focus moving forward needs to be on maintaining the momentum built over the last year that increased the retention rate over 4 percent, while also continuing to promote growth in both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, accelerated degree programs and certificate programs that are both relevant and learner-convenient, while not sacrificing program quality.
He closed the address by using the Apollo 11 mission as an example of the work it takes, both in success and in failure, to achieve lofty goals.
In 1969, Apollo 11 reached the moon. But it was the Ranger Program before it that made the moon landing possible. Best described how the early stages of the Ranger Program went – Rangers 1-6 failed. Ranger 7 succeeded, which set up the success of Apollo 11.
“Without the success of Ranger 7, Apollo 11 likely doesn’t occur,” he said. “I bring this up because, to accomplish much, we must set our sights on the big goal, define clearly the steps necessary to achieve that goal, work in concert and commit ourselves to taking those steps, and never let failure along the way do anything but help us correct and make us more determined to accomplish.”