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Two words sum up the U’s strategy for helping students get an exceptional education: Students First. A new report shows that strategy is working.

By Brooke Adams, communications specialist, University Communications

Two words sum up the U’s strategy for helping students get an exceptional education: Students First. And a new report shows that strategy is working.

The U is graduating more students more quickly with less debt, greater opportunity and higher salaries than other Utah public institutions, according to this report “Clearing the Path.” At the same time, the U is keeping a steady focus on providing engaged learning experiences that transform students’ lives.

Senior Vice President Ruth Watkins presented the report to the Utah State Board of Regents earlier this month. It provides an executive summary of progress made in achieving U President David Pershing’s four primary goals: promoting student success; generating knowledge; engaging communities; and ensuring long-term vitality of the U.

The Students First strategy “has accelerated the trajectory of both our students and our institution — and has been successful because our entire institution has kept Students First at the forefront of our common, shared purpose,” Watkins said in the report’s introduction.

Some measures of that success:

  • The U’s six-year graduation rate increased from 58.9 in 2012 to 67.4 in 2017.
  • U graduates’ average annual salary is $51,000.
  • The 2017 freshman class is the largest, most diverse and academically prepared ever.
  • Financial aid awards have increased 11.5 percent since 2012-13, while scholarships have increased 77.4 percent over that five-year period.
  • Average number of units taken in first year has increased 7 percent over the past five years.
  • The first-year retention rate now exceeds 90 percent.
  • 51 percent of U students take at least one online course each year, a flexible schedule option that aids degree completion.
  • The Transformative Excellence Program, now in its fourth year, continues to advance the U’s efforts to attract nationally renowned faculty to address urgent societal issues.
  • The total number of diverse faculty increased 27 percent over the past five years.
  • From 2015 to 2016, citations of U research by academic peers increased 30 percent.
  • Total research funding has increased 27 percent over the past five years.
  • More than 800 undergraduate students now participate in research programs.

Helping students finish their degrees in a timely manner is the most urgent goal going forward, the report says. The U has three tactics to help achieve that goal: Launch an innovative financial assistance program; increase internships; and fine tune use of data analytics to support students in completing their degrees.

“We are building a diverse and multidisciplinary institution to surround our students with a rich tapestry of world-renowned faculty, advisors and research opportunities,” Watkins said in the report. “Engaging our students with real-world experiences instills the university’s collaborative character as their own and empowers them to realize and master their unique passions, skills and talents in service of a more positive future for our state, society and world.”