Standing in front of the new mixed-use facility, The Crossing — South at Holden, University of Central Missouri President Dr. Charles Ambrose gave his State of the University address Thursday afternoon, giving several examples of how UCM is continuing to improve student success.
The annual address focused on student success, specifically helping students graduate in four years with less debt. Ambrose took the opportunity to announce UCM is experiencing its largest enrollment in its 114-year history — a record 14,395 students are enrolled at UCM this fall, a 7.6 percent increase over last fall and a 23.7 percent increase over a five-year period.
“At a time when the performance at many of our peer institutions is static following years of declining state support, as we begin this fall semester, I am enthusiastic to say the state of UCM is strong because of all of you,” Ambrose said in his address to the crowd gathered at The Crossing. “We are also all grateful for the leadership of our Board of Governors for their actions and policies that have enabled us to consistently keep tuition increases below the Consumer Price Index at the lowest rate in the nation and help reduce the level of student debt in very significant ways.”
Some of that growth is due in part to creating new and innovative programs, specifically in the STEM areas, that are attracting students to Warrensburg.
“Students are coming here from across the globe in record numbers to take advantage of programs in areas such as computer science and computer information systems,” Ambrose said. “… Creating new opportunities, including a bachelor’s degree and graduate certificate program in a high-demand area such as cybersecurity, will help us continue to build momentum in the technology areas.”
Ambrose also gave several other statistics on the ever-increasing student population at UCM.
• The Honors College is experiencing the largest first-time, full-time freshman enrollment since 2008, with an incoming class of 155 new students, a 24 percent increase over last year.
• UCM had 232 students participating in Study Abroad programs for the 2014-15 academic year, a 452 percent increase over the previous year.
“This is a bar that has been lifted quite a ways,” Ambrose said. “That’s a 452 percent increase in the number of students who consider the studying abroad experience. If you talk to our first-year students, when we experienced the barbecue out there after the open convocation, they expect to study abroad. That’s part of why they’re coming here and that’s a very big change.”
While student enrollment is up at UCM, student debt is down, which Ambrose said is “perhaps the most positive indication that we’re moving in the right direction that is enhancing the value proposition of UCM.” Students borrowed $5.56 million less than the previous year to attend the university.
Ambrose said that while data from the Class of 2017 will provide more insight into where the university needs to continue to improve, and how recent changes will impact families financially, data already shows more students are on track to graduate with a degree from UCM in four years.
He credited that to the Learning to a Greater Degree contracts that were implemented in 2013 — students must commit to attending class on a regular basis, checking in with their academic advisers, and taking at least 15 hours of classes per semester. Average credit hours for first-time freshmen are gradually climbing, with the percentage of first-year students averaging 30 credits per year increasing from 48.5 percent to 55.2 percent from fall 2012 to fall 2015.
While UCM’s focus the last few years has been on improving the student experience, it will now extend that focus to faculty and staff. UCM’s Human Resources Department will be working with PeopleWorks International to develop a plan for 2015-16 and long-term “that benefits our much-valued employees and the institution as a whole. … We want to ensure that you, as employees and critical members of a campus committed to our students’ success, have the tools you need to successfully do your job and to ultimately become leaders in support of your individual areas and our collective potential as a campus.
Ambrose said PeopleWorks will help UCM with the following goals:
• Develop and implement an aligned performance evaluation tool for faculty and staff;
• Implement the UCM Strategic Hiring Process, which will include all processes from recruiting through onboarding to ensure we have the best people to meet institutional growth; and,
• Redesign the job description and pay grade system to be more consistent and effective.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.