MISSOULA – University of Montana President Sheila Stearns launched spring semester with a State of the University Address focused on tackling UM’s enrollment challenge and producing a new strategic plan.
Stearns gave her presentation Jan. 19 in the University Center Ballroom before a packed house of UM faculty, staff and students and Missoula community members. Her remarks were followed by an exercise in which attendees brainstormed UM’s vision for future success and prioritized University goals.
"'We Are Montana' is not just a slogan," Stearns said. "The University of Montana is proud of its heritage and particularly proud of its students and alumni. We are resilient in the face of current challenges. We are skeptical about quick fixes, and we are fundamentally confident about our future, just as UM President Oscar Craig was over a century ago."
During her talk, Stearns:
- Discussed the challenges of enrollment, budget and UM’s process for producing a new strategic plan this spring.
- Highlighted the need to budget conservatively. She said UM needs to make data-driven decisions based on the best assumptions available about enrollment trends. She noted that, due to continued large graduating classes and smaller freshman classes, the downward enrollment trend likely will continue for the next few years.
- Pressed everyone in attendance to think about raising UM’s retention rate (from freshmen to sophomore) from the current 70 percent to 80 percent or higher. She said retention is another key piece of the enrollment challenge at UM and a challenge throughout the Montana University System.
- Touched on a continuing theme of “star power” at UM, noting recent accolades of UM faculty members and students.
The slideshow Stearns used during her presentation is online at http://www.umt.edu/president/communication/.
The “visioning exercise” after her remarks was led by UM’s Strategic Planning Coordinating Council, which spent this past fall gathering feedback about the current state of the University. The exercise was intended to help design an aspirational statement of what UM wants to be in the future.
“A vision statement defines what our future will look like if we fulfill our mission,” said Brock Tessman, dean of UM’s Davidson Honors College. “The statement should inspire and challenge us, providing a view of ourselves that will attract and retain talented faculty, staff and students.”
He also invited exercise participants to prioritize the most important ideas and goals for the vision statement.