MISSOULA – University of Montana President Sheila Stearns outlined her vision for tackling the University’s challenges on March 13 during the annual State of the Community event.
Titled “Unique Challenges, Shared Successes,” this year’s City Club Missoula gathering brought together Stearns, Missoula Mayor John Engen and Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss to discuss important community issues. They spoke at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Missoula-Edgewater.
In 2018, UM will celebrate 125 of academic excellence, and Stearns described how she has launched Forward125 – an initiative to closely evaluate the University in order to make sound decisions that reflect the needs of students while maximizing finite resources.
“Forward125 will put us on the path toward achieving these goals,” said Stearns, the former Montana commissioner of higher education serving as interim president while UM conducts a national search for its next top leader. “I can tell you that the state of the University is solid, strong and strategic.”
Stearns said UM faces four key challenges: declining enrollment, budget alignment, program prioritization and completing its strategic plan. She said all decisions will be made employing the University’s strong tradition of inclusive shared governance.
Forward125 involves the interconnected efforts of the University Planning Council; the Cabinet; the Budget Committee; shared governance such as the faculty and staff senates and Associated Students of UM; and assessment and accreditation measures.
“All planning efforts will be informed by the core values of our strategic plan, which is being developed through campus engagement by the Strategic Planning Coordinating Council,” Stearns said.
Regarding enrollment, she said UM is working to stabilize the incoming freshman class, increase nonresident students, continue growth at the two-year Missoula College, continue the steady state of graduate student admissions and expand international student recruitment.
Personnel account for 81 percent of the University budget. In the short term, Stearns said UM will take advantage of attrition and salary savings, only make new hires with presidential approval, offer retirement incentives and streamline services. The University also is trying to increase efficiency using more shared services.
She said UM must continue preparing graduates to meet real-world challenges across Montana, the nation and the world. She envisions a University with the appropriate faculty-to-student ratio that encourages degree completion in four years with sufficient financial aid.