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President delivers State of the University Address

Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis delivered the following State of the University Address at the Faculty and Staff Convocation in Walter Hall Rotunda on Wednesday, Aug. 27:

Ten years ago, I took the oath of office as the 20th President of Ohio University. As we do with most anniversaries, 10 years has given me pause to reflect on Ohio University’s story and the chapters that have been added since I assumed office a decade ago. As we gather today, evidence of our growth is all over campus.

In this direction, we have Baker University Center, where 10 years ago there was a stark hillside. Next door to Baker, there is Walter International Education Center, and beyond that, the Schoonover Center for Communication has brought new life to the former home of Baker Center.

In this direction we are in the process of watching the construction of four new state-of-the-art residence halls. Over here, we have Walter Fieldhouse, which celebrated its grand opening on Monday.

That’s nearly 180 degrees of transformation right there, without even noting the two new campuses that we’re constructing in Dublin and Cleveland! Our footprint on the state is greater than ever before.

But as you know, our success over the past 10 years extends far beyond the sheer physical growth:

  • We have enhanced our first year student experience with the expansion of learning communities.
  • We have recruited and retained internationally-renowned faculty — artists, scholars, scientists — who have won awards for contributions to their fields.
  • We have launched and surpassed the largest capital campaign goal in the history of Ohio University — a campaign that has led to the naming of the Scripps College of Communication, the Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education, and the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.
  • We have increased student enrollment, diversity and academic quality.
  • We have improved transparency, access and affordability.
  • We have nurtured an environment of collaboration and excellence, where faculty on all of our campuses daily interact with students and colleagues in pursuit of transformative teaching, research, creative activity, and service.
  • Combined with two Bowl wins and a Sweet 16 run, I’d say we’ve had a pretty good decade!

In essence, Ohio University has transformed the student experience in every direction. As a result, Ohio University today ranks in the top 2.2 percent of the world's higher education institutions for its quality of education (based on a survey by the Center for World University Rankings).

These feats are even more impressive when you consider that our last decade is a story of triumph in the face of adversity. At a time when many universities have been hindered by the critical budgetary, operational and regulatory challenges facing higher education, Ohio University has thrived. We have emerged from the national and state economic downturn as a stronger University. Today, we are revered as a highly sought-after educational partner, an economic driver and a leading public research university. As a result, we are expanding our footprint, growing our enrollment and actively addressing societal needs.

I attribute this success to sound strategic planning. Over the years, we have worked strategically and tirelessly to develop comprehensive initiatives to face modern-day challenges and position our University for success. The higher education community is taking note. They want to understand the smart growth principles that fuel our success; they want to replicate our transformative learning environment. And let’s be honest, they want to understand how we are achieving record applications and unprecedented enrollment when other universities are experiencing a decrease in their enrollment numbers.

This spring, Ohio University set a new record for first time student applications, receiving more than 20,935. This is the 4th consecutive year that we have increased enrollment applications and our third record-setting year — a 56 percent increase over 2011! As a result, the Class of 2018 is our largest, most diverse and one of the highest academic quality classes in Ohio University’s history. Today, we are looking at an anticipated enrollment record of 4,394 students — a 3.5 percent increase over last year’s record.

These enrollment gains show that prospective students recognize the value of Ohio University’s academic programs and an education from our university. It is proof that our marketing and recruitment efforts are effective and paying dividends. It speaks to the success of our strategic enrollment management planning and the success of our community as a whole!

Though enrollment is most often talked about in the context of undergraduates, it is important to note that Ohio University has an increasingly important role in educating students at the graduate level. Graduate student headcount has grown by more than 30 percent in the last four years, and currently is expected to grow another 6.5 percent this year.

Our graduates who complete master’s and doctoral degrees are at the forefront of advancing knowledge and culture, and pursue careers as leaders in innovation and technology. To be sure, Ohio University has an increased presence in the global knowledge economy.

Transforming affordability

One noticeable difference between when I first took office and now, is the cost of higher education. It’s a reality that is facing all public institutions of higher education as we struggle to cope with shrinking state support. In the face of rising college costs and decreased family earnings, the financial burden on students and their families is greater than ever before.

In 2012, Ohio University graduates who borrowed faced an average debt of $27,060 — contributing to a national debt burden that today includes nearly $1.2 trillion in outstanding student-loan debt. While the prevalence of student borrowing at Ohio University is slightly less than national averages, we still see approximately 66 percent of graduates carrying some student debt on graduation day.

The good news for Ohio University students and graduates is that their investment ultimately pays off — not only in terms of personal growth but also in actual dollars.

According to a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a person with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn about $1.2 million more, from ages 22 to 64, than someone with only a high-school diploma. But the long-term value of higher education does not negate the obstacles that substantive debt poses to our graduates’ short-term opportunities.

And so today, I’d like to spend some time highlighting how Ohio University is working to reduce the impact of recent tuition increases and lessen financial strain on our students and their families.

During the 2013-14 fiscal year, private gift commitments at Ohio University increased by 34 percent, which enabled us to surpass our $450 million dollar capital campaign goal. An important focus of these gains is the growth of gifts for student scholarships, which increased by 111 percent, thanks to the concerted efforts of our University Advancement team.

A prime example of this increase is The OHIO Match, through which Ohio University aims to raise $75 million in endowed scholarship funding during the next five years ($50 million in gifts matched with $25 million of University funds). Already, nearly 3,000 donors have committed more than $3.2 million to match-eligible accounts and have established 65 new, endowed scholarships.

Our commitment also is reflected in The OHIO Signature Awards Program, a new approach to institutional aid which added $2.1 million above previous years for new freshmen in the form of merit-based scholarships, need-based grants, and awards. The Signature Awards includes our new Gateway Assist Award, which will provide high-achieving, high-need returning scholarship students $156 more aid beginning this fall semester to off-set the recent tuition increase.
Ohio University also takes a number of pre-emptive measures, with an emphasis on financial planning. This includes The OHIO Guarantee program, our new level-rate tuition and fee model, which will begin with the fall semester of the 2015-16 academic year.

While a guaranteed tuition model is not a new concept in higher education, OHIO’s innovative plan is unique. Our model includes fixed rates for housing, dining and fees, making college costs transparent and predictable. This helps families budget for the total cost of college by guaranteeing constant rates throughout a student’s four years at Ohio University.

The OHIO Guarantee program provides an incentive for students to remain enrolled and graduate within four years and will increase the value of financial aid. The program’s name — The Ohio Guarantee — serves as a reminder that a stable, predictable rate of tuition is a guarantee Ohio University makes to each student invested in an OHIO education.

In the big picture, our affordability measures appear to be paying off.

In fact, Ohio University was recently ranked 14th out of 44 colleges and universities that qualify as “best buys” based on the quality of their academic offerings in relation to the cost of attendance by the “Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015.” These rankings speak to the value of transformative education. And we are committed to protecting the value and impact of an Ohio University degree in years to come — for our students, for our alumni and for many others who are indirectly impacted by our reach.

Transforming roles

The role of the university is much broader than it was when I first took office. Today, we are recognized as an equal partner at the table, so to speak, along with leaders in government, non-governmental organizations and industry. As such, we are held accountable for many issues that were once thought to be outside the reach of higher education.

Many of the steps that we have taken during the past 10 years reflect new expectations on higher education to address societal needs. I take pride in the fact that we are answering the call of our state and region. Moreover, we are meeting the call in ways that also allows us to maintain our strong liberal arts education.

Take for example, the health field. By 2025, experts predict a national shortage of 130,000 physicians. During the same period, the number of Americans older than 65 — the population segment most reliant on health care services — will increase significantly. Through our allied health training programs, OHIO is adapting to meet market demands and to address critical healthcare needs. These programs benefit students through job placement. More importantly, they position the University to make a profound impact on the future wellbeing of our nation.

A great example is Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is actively addressing the growing shortage of primary care physicians through recently established programs in Dublin and Cleveland. Already, the Heritage College is nationally-recognized as a leading producer of new primary care physicians, and we expect to grow our prominence and impact through its expansion.

Because we believe that clinical medical professionals will be key to filling the predicted void in medical services, Ohio University also is committed to growing programs in these areas.

Earlier this month, the College of Health Sciences and Professions began admitting students into its new Physician Assistant master’s degree program, a growing field which will help to fill the gap created by any future physician shortages. In addition, we take great pride in the fact that we house Ohio’s largest nursing school. With more than 6,000 students currently enrolled, the school’s innovative online RN to BSN program enables working nurses to meet new educational standards and obtain a bachelor’s degree without leaving their jobs.

The success of our allied health programs have been made possible through the partnerships that our colleges have forged with leading names in healthcare including OhioHealth, the Cleveland Clinic and the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations. Although these are domestic partnerships, the collaborations that are leveraging us for the future are not bound by borders.

Transforming boundaries

When I came into office 10 years ago, we heard a lot about academic silos — a term that is used to describe the isolation of faculty within their own subject areas. More or less, a University devoid of professional interactions with colleagues. Those who can recall Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs know that this is a detrimental mode of operation — detrimental for faculty, detrimental for students and detrimental for the University.

For this reason, modern planning initiatives in higher education are inundated with phrases like “interdisciplinary methodologies” and “cross-college partnerships.” And this is not purely lip-service. Indeed, collaboration will provide the foundation for Ohio University’s future. In fact, I would like to think that in our increasingly-interdependent, globalized world, academic silos are fading into the past.

Today’s global knowledge economy demands much of the educational community — so much that we cannot do it alone. It is only through partnerships and global engagement with communities around the world that higher education will produce the talent that industry and society need. Not only do international partnerships enhance economic and academic strength, they also build capacity within universities to better understand, share and adapt to world trends.

Last fall, I initiated the development of an overall strategic international plan for Ohio University, which will be rolled out later this year by Dr. Lorna Jean Edmonds, our Vice Provost for Global Affairs and International studies. By being more intentional about our global engagement, we hope to maximize research and educational collaborations, increase study abroad opportunities for students and grow faculty exchange programs. Through alliances with strategic international partners, Ohio University will be better able to prepare future leaders for the globalized world in which they will work and live.

This academic year, Dr. Edmonds will be sharing the strategic vision for internationalization that has been drafted with faculty, students and administrators. She will be engaging them in discussions on how best to shape OHIO's future through targeted international initiatives.  

By being more intentional about our global engagement, we hope to maximize research and educational collaborations, increase opportunities for students to have rewarding international experiences at home and abroad and grow faculty exchange programs and capacity to internationalize their curriculum. Through alliances with strategic international partners, Ohio University will be better able to prepare future leaders for the globalized world in which they will work and live.
Transforming student support

Equally important to our future are the ways in which Ohio University is enabling student success in the present. Efforts that support student success and consequently student retention include:

  • The expansion of OHIO’s Learning Communities.
  • The creation of the Allen Center, which now houses the Allen Student Advising Center and Undergraduate Orientation Programs.
  • The addition of a First Generation Advisor and Professional Advisors who will focus on helping first- and second-year students understand and navigate the academic requirements of their majors.
  • A new Map Works program, which will help to identify “at risk” students early-on.
  • More concerted intervention efforts by faculty and staff.

In the College of Arts & Sciences, retention efforts include an intervention program in freshman biology. Advisers reach out to students who have not done well on their first exam and suggest several options, including a half-semester biology preparation course to better prepare them for the core biology curriculum. Other students enroll in a half-semester course where they explore career options and interests. Under the leadership of Dean Bob Frank, the College of Arts and Sciences will be expanding these advising interventions in additional science programs where students often struggle their first year.

Another way in which Ohio University is transforming the student experience is through our response to issues of importance — on campus and on a national level.

As you know, campuses across the nation are currently grappling with how best to prevent sexual assault and much discussion is taking place in our nation’s capital. To this end, Ohio University recently implemented the Not Anymore Program, a mandatory online sexual assault prevention program for incoming students.

The Class of 2018 is the first class at Ohio University to begin its college experience having completed the online program, which is largely administered by our Women’s Center and its Survivor Advocacy Program. This initiative supports other University-wide efforts, including bystander intervention training, Campus Conversations on issues of sexual assault and recent revisions to our sexual misconduct process. In addition, I will be announcing plans to establish a Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Misconduct in the near future. This action will reinforce our efforts to address and prevent sexual harassment, sexual assault, relationship and dating violence, and stalking on all of our campuses.

From counseling to peer mentoring to legal services, student support at Ohio University runs the gamut. Today, I would like to highlight one specific area that is truly making transformational strides toward helping Ohio University become a more welcoming community for all. To this end, I invite members of the Presidential Advisory Council on Disability and Accessibility Planning (PACDAP) to please stand or raise a hand as you are able.

Two years ago, I re-charged the group before you with identifying ways in which Ohio University can comply with state and federal disability laws to remove barriers and to enhance the OHIO experience for individuals living with disabilities, both in educational and employment settings. It is clear that these individuals took this call to heart, and I have been truly inspired by the vigor and passion with which they have approached the task at hand.

The strategic planning process that ensued has produced the Ohio University Disability Strategic Plan for Inclusion and Accessibility. Over the course of the next 10 years, this plan will guide Ohio University’s efforts to become a leader for improving the inclusion and accessibility for persons living with disabilities.

Thanks to the commitment of the individuals before you, Ohio University is transforming into a community that is fully inclusive and fully accessible. I would especially like to acknowledge the work of Darrell Purdy, Assistant Director for Employee Accommodations and Campus Accessibility, for his leadership in building the framework to develop this plan, and for inspiring many members of the community to recognize the role they can each play in making our campus more inclusive and accessible.

By working to implement the initiatives that you have recommended, Ohio University will make great progress toward increasing access to education and employment for people living with disabilities and preparing global citizens who value the contributions of people with all abilities.

To the PACDAP members: thank you for your guidance and dedication! Ohio University is a better place because of you!

Transforming communities

Through strategic planning processes like this, Ohio University’s future impact is taking shape. These initiatives build upon our long history of service to Ohio citizens. Thanks in part to last year’s Economic Impact Report, Ohio University is well-known as an engine of economic growth for the State of Ohio through our role as an employer, educator, research institution and regional steward.

In 2012, OHIO generated $1.5 billion dollars in economic impact on the state and over $104 million in state and local tax revenue by activity associated with the University. And we believe that our impact will deepen, given our expansion into Dublin and Cleveland. By 2018, our new campuses are projected to have an economic impact of more than $45 million, create more than 245 jobs and generate nearly $2 million in tax revenue for state and local governments!

By working hand-in-hand with public universities across Ohio, we can further our economic impact. An example of these efforts is The OHIO Innovation Fund, a Venture Capital Fund initiated by Ohio University and The Ohio State University to commercialize our research and technologies.

The OHIO Innovation Fund, which is projected to be $75 million dollars when fully subscribed, responds to data citing the Midwest as the most underfunded region of the country — producing 18 percent of U.S Patents but only receiving 7 percent of the nation’s Venture Capital. The fund is designed to directly leverage the state’s established innovation and ecosystems funded through the Third Entrepreneurial Signature Programs.

Ohio University’s service to the state is underscored by our emerging City-University collaboration. This summer, we jointly announced the trial opening of Bobcat Lane as well as Ohio University’s extended support for a new Athens Fire Department pumper truck. We also recently furthered collaborations with the City of Athens by signing two appendices to our existing Memorandum of Understanding regarding emergency preparedness and disability and accessibility planning.

But perhaps the most marked way that we are impacting communities in Southeast Ohio and around the globe is through our research. Today, our faculty and staff are involved in a broad range of research, from the internal structure of the proton, to the impact of climate change; their scholarship advances knowledge on topics ranging from insulin sensitivity to the origins of the Civil War; and their endeavors provide new perspectives into the human condition through creative media ranging from poetry, to performing arts.

Many of our students are partners in these pursuits. In 2014, a total of 798 undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs presented their work at our annual Research and Creative Activity Expo and a total of 1,490 students engaged in events, competitions, consulting, and other entrepreneurial activities. Ohio University's research and creative activity enriches lives and solves real-world problems.  

Our research strength is bolstered by our commitment to economic development. This is exemplified by the work of Edison Biotechnology Institute. EBI is one of the nation’s few research entities established in a university setting that includes technology development and commercialization as well as business assistance as part of its mission.

Thanks to the work of EBI and other programs that are part of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, our university remains a leader in fostering entrepreneurs who move discoveries from the lab to the marketplace. We are proud of our university as a source of innovation, and we look to grow the university as a source of innovation in the broadest sense in the years ahead.
Transforming lives

Indeed, Ohio University has come a long way in the past 10 years and a loooong way since my time as a student. Today, we are a leading voice in higher education’s quest for tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion. Through groups like The Interlink Alliance, the LGBT Center and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, we work to ensure that underrepresented students from all walks of life will be supported and embraced in our University community.

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have brought into sharper focus the value of a diverse University community. As events and national dialogue unfold, it has become increasingly clear that higher education should, and moreover we must, continue to instill in our graduates a deep-rooted commitment to social justice and civil liberty. We must respect every individual who is part of the University, regardless of race, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation. We must respect ourselves and respect each other.

We do this by example, through the respect that we show and the value that we place on each and every individual in our University community. We also do this by providing ample opportunities for students to engage in our multicultural, multi-national campus community. For it is through engagement that today’s students better understand each other and themselves and have an innate curiosity about our seemingly-borderless world.

Thanks to the wealth of study abroad and global outreach opportunities at Ohio University, our students are immersing themselves regularly in the compound social and political issues faced by a global 21st Century society.

These types of experiential learning are now an integral part of an Ohio University education — all of which affirm our commitment to diversity in all of its forms.

Equally important is the local bonds that our students form during their time at Ohio University. Year after year, our students continue to engage with the surrounding communities of Southeast Ohio — mentoring area youth, bolstering regional businesses, beautifying community spaces and leading grassroots advocacy. It is truly a way of life for the current student.

Transforming OHIO

In my inaugural address, I told our campus community that we must be determined not to settle for what we have become, but rather to strive for what must be our destiny.

I take great pride in the accomplishments and strategic direction of the past decade. But even more invigorating is contemplating what is yet to come. To that end I would like to touch briefly upon a few initiatives that will serve to shape the next 10 years and beyond. But first, let me set the stage.

The fast pace of change of the 21st century presents its share of challenges — but also great opportunities. To remain vibrant and relevant, universities must not only adapt, but embrace changes brought by globalization and technologies. The question facing forward-thinking leaders of the day is this: How can we best focus intellectual and creative resources to effect positive change in the world?

This question resonates with our University community, perhaps because it is so closely related to the mission and identity of Ohio University. The creation of knowledge for the benefit of humanity is fundamental to our existence as a public research university. But in recent years, the need for a framework through which we can address humanitarian needs has become apparent

It was this need that inspired The OHIO Innovation Strategy, an emerging process for future investment with innovation as a central focus.

Under our Innovation Strategy, areas of strength, impact and collaboration – or niches – will be identified for possible investment. To be considered, a niche must:

  • Address a problem of significance to society.
  • Present opportunity for OHIO to leverage its strategic advantages.
  • Have potential for high-level impact.
  • Include interdisciplinary approaches

Four portfolios where we have strengths include:  

  • Energy, Environment and the Economy.
  • Digitally Connected World.
  • Health and Wellness.
  • Vibrant Societies and Economies.

By investing in these areas of strength, we hope to advance our efforts to effect positive change. I hope that you will join us at the Board of Trustees meeting later this week to learn more, or at upcoming open forums to provide feedback about this exciting initiative.

One notable finding that became evident as we explored possible University focus areas was the immense impact that we have made and continue to make across the state. Just as Ohio University was THE state university when it was founded in 1804, we continue to serve a vital and truly “state-wide” role.

We do this by educating Ohio. We do this by innovating Ohio. We do this by commercializing technology in Ohio. We do this by supporting the transformation of Ohio in multiple locations and through multiple platforms.

Today, we remain committed to elevating our state to a place of prominence. We are committed to accomplishing this transformation in a mindful and strategic way. It’s a phenomenon I like to refer to as “OHIO for Ohio” — a phenomenon that has positioned us well for the future.

Through initiatives like the ones behind me, and in so many other ways, OHIO is scripting a bright future for our state and with our state. But all of these initiatives pale in comparison to the driving force behind our success — and that is you.

It is because of your dedication and commitment that we are transforming our students, our region, our state, our nation and our world. I know you do what you do because you believe in higher education. You believe in our community. You believe in Ohio University and all that it stands for.

Our graduates are better citizens, better leaders, better professionals, better thinkers because of the impact that you have on their lives. And, I look forward to the impact that you will enable in the next ten years… and beyond.

If you remember only one thing from today’s State of the University, remember this: Ohio University’s story is your story; these accomplishments are your accomplishments; our transformative learning experience is a direct result of your hard work. And it is my hope that having the chance to come together today and celebrate all that we have accomplished re-ignites our passion for the important work that we will do in future years.

Here’s to a truly transformative academic year!