UNT president Neal Smatresk discussed a five year plan to improve the university to a full audience of students, faculty, alumni and donors at the Murchison Performing Arts Center during his 2019 State of the University address on Thursday.
He began his address by talking about UNT’s accomplishments in the past year, which includes a record breaking number of new faculty members, transfers and graduates as well a record for the largest ever incoming freshman class.
“The best news is that enrollment topped 39,000,” Smatresk said. “This is about 1,200 students more than we had last year.”
UNT also raised $75 million in research expenditures, and $60 million in gifts and pledges, half of the money coming from the Brint Ryan fund. Retention in four and six year graduation rates have also increased to an almost 80 percent rate of first year retention.
“This number really puts us in the ranks of the best [public universities] in the country,” Smatresk said.
Graduation rates have also increased by 4 percent to 39 percent, which almost hit Smatresk’s 40 percent goal.
“We’re training a first generation population,” Smatresk said. “We’re trying to teach them that they can come here and make it, and if they fail they can get back up on their feet.”
Smatresk’s five year strategic plan includes three parts: student empowerment and transformation, people and processes and scholarly activity and innovation. With each part, he presented goals, initiatives and metrics.
Increasing research expenditures, such as non-stem research funding, is one way Smatresk said he plans to increase scholarly activity.
“We’re still not producing the kinds of research dollars that we should for a university of our size,” Smatresk said.
Along with pursuing moving up within the Tier One universities, Smatresk said he wants to increase the amount of doctoral students who graduate at UNT.
Smatresk’s vision with culture is to attract, develop and celebrate the campus community. He said one of his goals was to decrease graduation time, emphasizing the Save and Soar program and how it could help students graduate within three years by getting discounted winter and summer semesters.
“We need to learn how to limit the increase of student debt,” Smatresk said. “This is a national issue, and we’re dedicated to making sure our students can graduate in a timely fashion.”
Smatresk also discussed efforts to envision what the campus would look like in 2050 and beyond, talking about the first group of 25 students who began a three year accelerated program at UNT’s Frisco Campus.
In terms of the student empowerment aspect of the plan, Smatresk said he wants to instill a growth mindset and resilience on first generation students.
“We’re never going to take our eye off the ball on improving retention,” Smatresk said. “If we don’t retain [students], we can’t give them a chance to get out on the job market.”
Another one of Smatresk’s goals is to expand internships and research experiences.
“Corporations will take a student with a one point lower GPA if they’ve had an internship,” Smatresk said. “We need to find more corporate partners to make sure our students can move out into the world.
Smatresk emphasized that UNT is becoming a minority-serving institution.
“If we’re going to get more first generation students as well, we need to improve the cultural competence of our campus,” Smatresk said.
Accounting senior Melva Yanes said she wanted to hear more about what Smatresk had to say about the growing Hispanic population at UNT.
“I wanted to see more emphasis on [how] they’re going to be able to help minorities and first generation students,” Yanes said. “Like what is their plan to keep more students coming to campus, especially for first generation students who need scholarships.”
UNT director of analytics Ryan Fellers said Smatresk had a good focus on strategy.
“There were enough actual metrics in some of the slides that we can align to,” Fellers said. “I think if we can put [the metrics] as things we can attain we can show progress.”
The strategic five-year plan will be presented to the UNT System Board of Regents in November.
Featured Image: UNT president Neal Smatresk gives his State of the University address at the Murchison Performing Arts Center on Sept. 12, 2019. Image by Theophilus Bowie