I often have the opportunity to talk with alumni groups and faculty members about their experiences as undergraduate students. When asked about factors that influenced their success, many people highlight particular individuals who demonstrated a special interest in them – a faculty member who involved them in scholarship, an advisor who reached out to help at a time of need, a donor whose scholarship made it possible to attend college, a staff member who genuinely cared about their well being, or members of a network from a residence hall or sorority who became “friends for life.”
As a campus, we strive to ensure the success, through graduation, of all of our students. We all have a role in promoting retention and graduation of Utah undergraduates, from those of us who recruit talented students to the U, to those who advise and teach students, to those who engage students in high-impact experiences like study abroad, service learning, or leadership, to those who provide support services throughout the university, to those whose jobs give them the opportunity to be a welcoming presence on campus. With an “all hands on deck” approach, we have formed a Comprehensive Task Force on Enhancing Retention and Graduation Rate, bringing together faculty, staff and student representatives from units across the campus to study our data and develop a set of critical recommendations to increase retention and graduation rate. Associate Vice Presidents Martha Bradley Evans and Mary Parker are leading the Task Force; the charge to the group and members are provided here.
As we focus together on enhancing the success of our students, I hope that you will remember the role that you play in this effort. You may be the one, recalled some years in the future, as a person who contributed positively to the success of our undergraduates, as that person who showed a special commitment to student success. Thank you for all that you do to support positive outcomes for Utah undergraduates. Your efforts make a difference.
The University of Utah is committed to excellence and access, excellence in the students we bring to our campus, the learning experiences we offer, and the success of our students, and access to higher education for talented students independent of their financial backgrounds. These are core values, as vital today as they have been over many preceding decades at the U.
And yet, these aspects of our core mission are at risk. Although a U of U education remains remarkably affordable with our tuition the lowest among Pac-12 peers, the cost of a Utah education has increased substantially over the past decade. Half of our students work at least 20 hours per week to cover the cost of their education, and about one-quarter of our graduating senior work full time. These are difficult demands to balance, no doubt challenging our students to complete their degrees in a timely manner and limiting opportunities to take full advantage of the high impact learning experiences that we encourage (e.g., internships, study abroad, research with faculty, community-based learning) .
In light of these needs, we launch a scholarship initiative to increase financial support for our students, ensuring continuation of the core values of excellence and access. Scholarships will meet urgent student needs and advance campus priorities, within three major areas:
- Ensure ACCESS for talented students with significant financial need
- Reward ACHIEVEMENT to recruit the highest performing students, and
- Promote COMPLETION for students who need support to cross the graduation finish line, including students transferring to the U
We have garnered significant new support to dedicate to these pressing needs, beginning with the Fall 2014 incoming student cohort, thanks to generous private and corporate support. To maximize these resources, we have created a challenge funds, allowing us to incentivize additional donors to contribute to the scholarship initiative, with the opportunity to double the impact of their current use gifts now through December 2014. Campus leaders and major gift staff at all levels are assisting with this strategic scholarship initiative. The scholarship Initiative has the power to ensure access, reward achievement, and promote degree completion for our students, truly transforming the lives of many. I hope that you will consider joining with us in this effort. Additional information about the scholarship initiative and challenge program will be available soon on the SVPAA website. Stay tuned.
With best wishes,