STORRS — University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst outlined her vision for a $1 billion endowment, 300 new faculty members, and a more diverse student body in her first “State of the University” address Thursday.
Herbst, who has been on the job for a year, has big plans to make UConn one of the top public research universities in the country, but in order to do that she’s going to need money and the support of the university community.
“UConn can’t do it all. No great university does everything well; and in light of a tough economy and recent budget constraints, we simply can’t afford to,” Herbst said.
Her message Thursday was simple: given the tough economic climate and rising tuition, it’s time for the university to prioritize. In late December, the Board of Trustees approved a plan to raise price of tuition, room and board, and other fees by about 4.5 percent annually over the next four years.
Herbst reminded the audience that even though the state has cut back funding for its annual block grant to the school, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy committed more than $1 billion to improve the school’s infrastructure and create high-level science and technology jobs.
The annual grant has been reduced to 20 percent of the school’s operating budget, down from about 35 percent in 2008, but the $864 million Bioscience Connecticut project and the $18 million UConn Tech Park will bolster the school’s research capacity.
To do this, UConn must recruit intelligent, motivated students and accomplished faculty, continue investing in research, and aggressively solicit donations until it has amassed a $1 billion endowment, which is an ambitious goal. At the close of 2011, UConn’s endowment equalled about $329 million.
On Feb. 29, Herbst wrote in a post on UConn Today, the university’s public relations website, that “what many may not realize is that UConn’s endowment falls quite short compared with those of the other top-ranked public research universities in the country.” She echoed this assertion during Thursday’s speech.
Total fundraising performance, Herbst said, has increased by over 40 percent from this time last year. The UConn Foundation achieved a fundraising record, raising more than $25.1 million in six months.
By 2016, UConn is expected to add 300 faculty to the 4,286 full-time teaching staff at the Storrs campus as well as at its five regional campuses.
“This effort is focused on boosting not only numbers, but also the diversity of our university experts, across all of our schools and colleges — from engineering and medicine to education and the arts,” Herbst said.
At the end of her speech, Herbst hinted at a branding campaign that she said will pinpoint the university’s “unique identity.” She said she has asked “leaders from across our community” to identify aspects of the university — student life, academics, research, and campus culture — that set UConn apart.
“When we articulate our unique brand promise, we effectively take the reins in showcasing our most exceptional strengths,” Herbst said. “We can actively reinforce what sets UConn apart and bring to light what attributes and accomplishments have perhaps gone unnoticed but deserve to be recognized.”
More than 30,000 high school seniors applied to UConn for the 2012-13 academic year — a new record, Herbst said. The school will accept 15 percent, or just 4,525 students, at the Storrs campus.
The average combined SAT score for the 2011-12 freshman class broke 1,200, with 82 percent of the students ranked in the top 25 percent of their high school class.
UConn also has been recruiting a more diverse student body. This year’s freshman class included 208 percent more minority students than the freshman class in 1995.
Herbst thanked UConn’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni and other “friends of the university,” extolling their unique contributions to the culture, accomplishments, and vitality. Donors, faculty, and administrators attended the first “State of the University’ address, but there were few students in the audience.
Few students attended the event, presumably because they had a classes to attend. One UConn student, journalism major Patrick Bursey, wrote on Twitter that he hoped his political science professor would allow students to take a quiz at the beginning of class so they could attend the speech.
Undergraduate Student Government President Sam Tracy said he could not attend the speech because of a scheduled class as well.
Former President Mike Hogan delivered a similar annual address during his three years in office, while former President Philip Austin opted instead to send a lengthy annual letter to all of the university’s students, faculty, and staff, UConn Spokesman Michael Kirk said.
Kirk said the speech was streamed live to the regional campuses, John Dempsey Health Center, and the UConn Law School in West Hartford. He said a video will be posted online in a few days.
“If a student had class, they can watch it later if they choose to,” Kirk said.
“The speech was targeted at everybody who has a connection to the university — students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors but also in a sense to the state generally,” Kirk said. “All of Connecticut has a stake in UConn.”
UConn sent an official announcement informing its 30,000 students, faculty and staff about the event, but Kirk said he did not know if the university made any attempt to reach alumni, other than posting the event on its calendar and writing about it on the UConn Today site.