University of Central Missouri President Dr. Charles Ambrose gave his annual State of the University address Thursday afternoon, and he gave a positive look into the past year and where the university is headed.
Speaking to a small crowd in Hart Recital Hall in the Utt Building at UCM, Ambrose spoke about changes that have positively impacted both the students and faculty/staff at the school, such as the first UCM Experience Kickoff, which invited freshmen to move in several days early to learn more about the campus, their classes and the community through tours, meetings and activities.
“(UCM) set expectations early that academic excellence is why we’re here and a degree is the objective,” Ambrose said.
Last year, UCM graduated 707 more students than the year before, Ambrose said, consistent with the school’s record enrollment for the last several years.
“That’s a good problem to have with a declining demographic in a competitive marketplace to sustain that enrollment,” Ambrose said. “This is the first fall semester in almost a decade we don’t have more headcount students on this campus than we’ve had the year before.”
Ambrose continued by saying the freshman class is “probably the most academically prepared class we’ve had since 2007” and has the largest enrollment in the Honors College, marching band and ROTC.
Among the large student population is a large investment in the campus itself, with $38.8 million in investments either completed, in progress or budgeted for this fiscal year, including renovations at the W.C. Morris and Humphreys buildings, as well as adding Steak ‘n Shake in the Elliott Student Union. He added that 400 new parking spaces will be made available to students next week.
Beyond construction projects, UCM has launched the Center for Multiculturalism and Inclusivity, housed in the Union.
“One way students let us know they could be engaged in more meaningful ways was the development of a new Center for Multiculturalism and Inclusivity on the third floor of the Student Union, contiguous to the International Center,” Ambrose said. “There is an infrastructure being developed for a student-focused center that supports the development and facilitation of positive and proactive initiatives for every student to have access to opportunity. One student allowed us to know, and I think this is an incredible objective: we want to have a campus community where every student has access to privilege.
“… By focusing attention on multiculturalism and inclusivity and engaging, this will allow us to focus on those things that bring us together, and not the things that pull us apart.”
Ambrose also mentioned the Missouri Innovation Campus, a partnership between UCM, Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, Metropolitan Community Colleges and Kansas City area businesses to help students graduate high school with two years of college under their belt, hopefully giving them less debt and an easier transition to the workforce.
The program has been in existence for a few years, but construction has begun on the physical campus in Lee’s Summit, which will not only create a campus for MIC, but will also provide more space for the UCM campus in Lee’s Summit to utilize.
During his 2015 address, Ambrose spoke about the school’s work to reduce student debt, and he brought up that aspect again.
“I think what I’m most proud of, in all the work and willingness to sacrifice to provide not only an affordable and accessible education, recognize during the last three fiscal years we removed $12.5 million out of the $65 million debt portfolio to have students borrow less and leave college more free without obligations,” he said.
About halfway through his remarks, Ambrose left the podium to join three students on stage for a discussion about their UCM experiences. He spoke with Bentley Lynn Littrel, a graduate student from Meadville, Jon Barr, a senior from Lee’s Summit, and Raven Alade, a junior from St. Louis.
Alade, a member of the Association of Black Collegians at UCM, was asked by Ambrose about her thoughts on the importance of more diversity.
“It’s important because if the students aren’t happy then the university won’t win. We have to be able to be those ones that speak up and take charge … We want to all feel like we belong here,” Alade said. “… Being a minority at a university such as this one, I don’t see people like me all the time so I know that I have to make a difference and be the one to speak up and speak about change and speak about being that voice … Speak about the change you want to see.”
Ambrose asked all three what they think is the state of the university and all three said they think the university is in a strong place, but there’s always room for improvement. Alade added that she thinks the new Center for Multiculturalism and Inclusivity is a good step to help the university move forward on those improvements.
Ambrose moved on to faculty changes, including the university raising its minimum wage and increasing salaries, as well as creating a new orientation that includes a video with comments and advice from existing faculty and staff, which was shown during his remarks.
“The state of the university is strong because of your commitment to student success,” Ambrose told those gathered. “… Learning to a greater degree is dependent upon all of us.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.