MISSOULA – University of Montana President Seth Bodnar said campus has worked diligently during the past year to move UM from a position of uncertainty to stability as it prepares for future growth.
UM’s 19th president made his remarks Tuesday during his second State of the University address in the Montana Theatre, sharing the stage with UM Provost Jon Harbor and shared governance leaders. This annual event brings faculty and staff together to learn about UM highlights, challenges and goals as campus prepares to launch the academic year.
“Over the course of the past year, we’ve made steady, consistent headway in addressing our challenges,” Bodnar said. “We’ve tackled head on some longstanding problems, we’ve reduced our structural budget deficit by over 60%, and we’ve cleared the way for new momentum.”
He mentioned many highlights, starting with UM student Dillon Demontiney, who transferred to UM from Stone Child Tribal College on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, struggled for a time on campus before receiving the help he needed, and then graduated in May in pre-med – the first in his family to finish college.
“We articulated last year a key priority: to place student success at the center of all we do,” Bodnar said.
Other highlights the president mentioned include:
- UM hired a vice president for student success, Sarah Swager, to implement a new orientation experience for students and build programs focused on the holistic success of students.
- Campus launched the Big Sky Experience for new students, allowing them to form bonds to aid retention as they work together for three days in small groups to accomplish positive goals for the community and campus.
- The University is hiring additional professional advisers while redesigning the advising experience. Bodnar said UM has set ambitious goals to raise first-year retention above 80% in the next few years and the six-year graduation rate to 60%.
- UM launched the Teaching Excellence Initiative to improve campus instruction, which has drawn interest from faculty members across all disciplines.
- Campus researchers set a record of $90.6 million in research expenditures during the past year. Bodnar said the new, ambitious goal is $100 million in such expenditures, which would help make UM eligible to achieve the highest level of Carnegie classification, a Research Very High Activity or R1 institution.
- UM researchers across disciplines published more than 800 papers. Of these, 28 were published in the world’s top three science journals, more than any other Big Sky Conference university.
- The University launched the SEA Change Initiative and revamped the Woman’s Leadership Initiative to empower women and accelerate them with lives of impact.
- Campus hired Tribal Outreach Special Brad Hall to help recruit a more diverse student body and is hiring a new director of diversity, equity and inclusion to boost UM’s climate of inclusion.
- UM had 584 students participate in an internship last year, earning $615,000 in wages, with 33 percent of those students being offered employment at their internship sites. In addition, 3,132 students contributed 103,934 hours of community service last year through 115 community partner organizations, generating $2.6 million in economic impact.
- Bodnar said Campaign Montana is expected to reach and potentially surpass its $400 million goal, making it UM’s most successful fundraising effort.
The president said UM experienced growing summer semester enrollment this year, and the University has implemented a comprehensive new strategic enrollment plan designed to attract, recruit, admit and retain a growing number of students. Recruitment infrastructure has been fixed and enhanced, communication flows with prospective students have been improved and an enhanced University brand and message now targets everyone from middle and high school students to parents, guidance counselors, teachers and coaches.
Bodnar said data show the value of a college education has never been greater, but people still question whether higher education is worth the cost.
“I can confidently claim that higher education is more important than it’s ever been, and this country needs institutions like UM tackle head-on the societal challenges we face,” he said. “This moment calls for us to expand our conception of what a university can and should be.”
Bodnar challenged his UM audience to “rise to the challenges we see in front of us and to answer our society’s needs” and to “shape a University of Montana that is not just the flagship university of this great state, but a flagship for American’s future – an institution that creates inclusive prosperity and sustains democracy.”