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Winter Update from the President

December 4, 2012

Dear Colleagues and Friends of UM,

As we head into the end of the autumn semester, I'd like to take a few minutes to share recent good news about The University of Montana and student success.

Partnering for Student Success is the first strategic issue for our Strategic Plan, "Building a University for the Global Century." We want to increase the likelihood that our students will graduate in a timely manner with a degree that prepares them for today's world.

Our efforts are working thanks in large part to the Office of Student Success, led by Assistant Provost Sharon O'Hare. UM's freshman-to-sophomore retention rate is 76 percent, the highest in the Montana University System. When we account for those students who transfer to another institution within Montana to pursue another program elsewhere -- engineering, for example -- the retention rate goes up to 78 percent.

We've also seen important positive trends in our entering classes. For several years, we've told high school students about the importance of a curriculum that gets them ready for college. That includes taking plenty of high school math, English, science, social science, a second language and the arts. Now, I'm proud to tell you that we've seen a dramatic increase in the percentage of our students who followed such a curriculum: 52 percent of our incoming class this fall had a college-prep curriculum in high school. That's up from 44 percent just the year before.

This means fewer students need developmental work when they arrive at UM. This year, 84 percent of our incoming freshmen were ready for college-level math, and 92 percent were ready for college-level English.

As you know, student success isn't about percentages, it's about the students themselves. Here are just two of many examples:

  • Erin Helmholz arrived at UM with 24 credits of advanced placement and dual credit work from high school and was determined to major in theatre. After two semesters, she decided to explore other options. A semester later, she settled on majoring in communication studies with a minor in theatre. She'll complete her degree this May, with honors, after just three years at UM.
  • Jeff Bickenheuser started at UM directly out of high school and was, by his own admission, not ready to be a college student. His initial grades reflected this, and he left UM. Two years ago, he returned and completed 30 credits with a grade point average above 2.5. He is now in good academic standing in the Management program at the School of Business Administration.

Our work to improve student success will be given a tremendous boost by creating a Learning Commons area in the Mansfield Library. We are actively fundraising so we can renovate the ground floor of the library and create a space that's a technology-rich study environment for individual students, has flexible study areas for small groups of four to 10, and features a high-tech conference room. The Math Center and the Writing Center will be housed in the Learning Commons.

Another recent innovation is the Academic Planner -- software that was developed at UM to help students identify and register for the courses most important to them. It customizes course selection based on academic interest, level of preparation and progress toward degree completion. With Academic Planner as a new advising tool, students increase the likelihood of enrolling in and succeeding in the courses most appropriate for them.

Higher education has never been more important to our society and to individual citizens. Let's celebrate the many successes here at UM.

Have a great end of the semester!

Royce C. Engstrom