University of Central Missouri: President Best Says UCM Outlook is “Mule Strong” with Successes That Include Enrollment Increase

Announcing that the University of Central Missouri was the only institution out of 47 colleges and universities from Missouri and our region to experience enrollment gains this fall across three segments – first-time freshmen, transfer and international students – President Roger Best affirmed that the university has much to be proud of when he presented his 2021 State of the University Address. In his speech on Sept. 16 he called the institution “Mule Strong,” also announcing a salary increase for full-time employees, effective Jan. 1, 2022.

In what was Best’s fourth State of the University Address since becoming UCM’s president, he pointed out that during the past 12 to 24 months the university has achieved many successes. They did not come, however, without hard work and sacrifices on the part of the institution’s faculty and staff.

“Especially encouraging news is seen in our enrollment. This fall we reversed negative multi-year trends in UCM enrollment patterns,” the UCM leader said.

The university’s fall census shows student headcount is 5.7 percent higher than a year ago. Additionally, Best shared that based on information provided during a conference call that included the 47 other colleges and universities, UCM is the only institution that experienced enrollment growth in three specific areas that include first-year freshmen headcount, which is up more than 6 percent; an increase in transfer students, up 7.6 percent from a year ago; and a 27 percent increase in graduate enrollment, driven by more than 800 additional international students.

“Many thanks to our enrollment management and graduate and international student services staff for their extraordinary work in recruitment, getting student applications processed into admits, and onboarding students through the orientation process,” Best said. “And special thanks to each person who engages our prospective and admitted students to ensure they enroll, attend and ultimately stay at UCM. Each part of this spectrum is critical, and an institution-wide effort has made the difference in generating the enrollment numbers we see this fall.”

In discussing the university’s budget, he noted that for the first time in four years, UCM achieved its fall tuition revenue forecast in the first week of classes. Best attributes this to higher enrollment, support from the State of Missouri, marketing and branding that is resonating, engaged alumni, and impactful donor support. Best added that effective with the new calendar year, each full-time employee’s salary will be increased by either $1,040 annually or 1 percent, whichever is greater.

“Is it as much as I’d like for us to do? No. But do know that we will continue to focus on ways to appropriately and adequately compensate you,” he said.

The president retraced challenges UCM faced over the past several months, noting, “Last year, besides a global pandemic, we lived through a furlough and salary reduction plan, and although we were fortunate to be able to partially refund to each of you the impact of these before the end of the fiscal year, there was an impact nonetheless. And we entered into retrenchment, a process through which 22 (about 4.7%) of our faculty colleagues were notified that their positions would be eliminated, eight of them by the end of the prior academic year, and 14 of whom are serving on a terminal contract this year.

“Without a doubt, there were moments last year that didn’t feel very successful and where we experienced significant personal uncertainty,” he said. “But, even in those trying and difficult moments, you remained focused and kept moving forward. And the results of this focus and persistence paid off and have led to significant and meaningful outcomes.”

Adding to positive experiences for UCM, during the last legislative session the university received a 3.7 percent increase in core funding. The legislature also authorized $5 million to further renovations to the W.C. Morris Science Building; $1 million to build out an aviation education center at Skyhaven Airport; and more than $400,000 in MoExcels funds to help meet workforce needs in the critical area of health care for regional communities.

“These were in addition to legislative action that removed the constraints we had in our tuition architecture, freeing us to make decisions about pricing structure that is more responsive to the market without inhibiting our longer-term control over tuition,” Best told the audience.

He praised the work of the UCM Alumni Foundation for raising more money, particularly targeted for capital projects, academic program resources and student scholarships. He added that the Foundation staff were doing this with almost 25 percent less in funding from the university than in years past. Despite the pandemic, alumni initiatives have included establishing nine MuleNation chapters with five more in planning, and alumni engagement is growing across multiple opportunities.

Here are just a few additional areas of progress and success Best noted during his remarks:

Last year, UCM graduated 3,235 students
95 percent of UCM graduates were successful in securing employment or placement in advanced study within six months of graduating
UCM over the last two years expended $5.2 million in federal, state and university funds to address deferred maintenance in its physical plant for campus improvements
The Board of Governors approved in August 2021 recommendations to invest $1.8 million in three projects: Wood Building ceiling and lighting improvements, W.C. Morris Building window replacement, and a transformative Music Program Recording Studio in the Wood Building
Over the last two years, UCM has spent $22.1 million in federal, state, university and private funds to initiate and/or complete numerous capital projects, including classroom renovations and new construction
For the first 10 weeks of the academic year, the university had more than 500,000 visits to UCM web pages: about 56 percent of those visits came from organic searches, which was the result of someone using Google or a similar search engine and clicking into a UCM page
The university recently entered into an agreement to become an Air Force University Associates to Baccalaureate Cooperative Institution. This allows anyone in the Air Force with a Community College of the Air Force associate degree, stationed anywhere in the world, to take UCM courses to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

In concluding his presentation, Best spoke about the university’s future noting, “If you ask me today what my vision for the University of Central Missouri is…it is simply this: Every student leaves exceptionally equipped, enriched and attached.”

“Just as you are key to facilitating the success of our students, achieving this vision is not possible without you,” he told UCM faculty and staff. “Today, I am perhaps one of the most fortunate people in the world. It is my great blessing to be able to work with you, and to serve at an institution where we are changing lives.”

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