She took particular pride in noting the biggest off all: the more than 3,000 resilient students who earned their degrees and joined the ranks of the St. Louis region’s largest alumni base. That represented a 5% increase in graduates in the past academic year.
“Whether balancing their educational pursuits with work commitments, family or parenting needs, or the financial hardships and uncertainties experienced during the pandemic – our students have demonstrated resilience and determination,” Sobolik told the audience gathered at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center and tuning in via livestream. “Their stories are as diverse as they are driven to make a positive change in their lives, that of their families and in the communities they will no doubt go on to live in, work in and lead.”
UMSL is not resting on its past accomplishments. Rather, as Sobolik noted, the university continues to take whatever steps possible to support student success for current and future students, ensuring an UMSL education is both affordable and accessible while lowering student debt upon graduation.
Staff members in the Office of Student Financial Aid has been working to distribute more than $10 million in emergency grants through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to thousands of needy students this academic year, and UMSL’s development team has worked with donors to establish nearly 100 new institutional scholarships over the past three years.
Sobolik also announced a new scholarship initiative: The St. Louis Scholars Program, a companion program to the Opportunity Scholars Program, which recently marked its 10th anniversary.
Under the new program, championed by Dean Edward Munn Sanchez, the Pierre Laclede Honors College will name 25 St. Louis Scholars who will receive $8,000 in stackable scholarship funds, membership in the Honors College and specialized advising and mentoring.
Each scholar will then interview for one of five coveted spots as Opportunity Scholars, who receive full-ride scholarships and wraparound support that extends to housing, books and equipment such as laptops, and faculty support, peer mentors and internship assistance.
“It’s a wonderful addition that will support academically gifted students who are either first-generation college students or are underrepresented in the workforce in their intended fields,” Sobolik said.
Additionally, Sobolik announced that UMSL will also be introducing a full-need tuition assistance program beginning in the spring 2022 semester for new undergraduate students from Missouri and the greater St. Louis metro area.
UMSL continues to be a leader in its peer group of urban and metropolitan public universities with the highest graduation and retention rates in the country in that group.
The university has also been on the rise nationally, climbing to No. 118 among public universities and No. 239 among all national universities in the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” rankings released on Monday. UMSL has now moved up a combined 42 spots in the overall rankings the past two years, the sixth-best improvement of any university in the country.
“I have no doubt that if we continue to focus our collective work on advancing our students, faculty and staff and embrace an emphasis on outcomes, that UMSL will be a Top 100 national public university,” Sobolik said.
Other highlights from Sobolik’s presentation:
- In discussing continued steps to control the spread of the coronavirus, Sobolik said “the most important thing we can do as a campus community is to get vaccinated.” She noted that UMSL will host on-site vaccination clinics in September and October, and the university recently launched the Triton Vaccine Incentive Program to highlight and reward those who are fully vaccinated with a chance to win $500 Visa gift cards.
- UMSL has added new degree programs in supply chain analytics, data science and analysis, applied behavior analysis and child advocacy studies in the past year, bringing the total number of new degree programs to 12 since 2018. It will soon seek approval from the state of Missouri to launch a new master’s degree in financial technology.
- Phase 1 of the renovation and expansion of the Nursing Learning Resource and Simulation Lab began in November with $1.5 million in donor funding and was completed this summer with support of a one-time $1.5 million allocation from the state of Missouri.
- UMSL increased its external grant awards by nearly 10% to $32.4 million in the past year, including a $5.1 grant to provide year-round literacy support to K-12 educators and a $5 million grant to expand services at Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis. UMSL’s research expenditures have increased by 50% in the past five years.
- UMSL is driving the efforts of Greater St. Louis Inc. to create jobs and expand inclusive prosperity through the Anchor Action Network. It is working alongside Edward Jones to bring together the region’s largest institutions and corporations to focus on building growth in the region – particularly in underserved communities within North St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis – with a particular focus on hiring, purchasing and investing locally.
- Sobolik shared proposed plans generated through campus master planning that include consolidating core UMSL academic operations into a sustainable footprint on the North Campus while establishing a health sciences core on South Campus that will include programming in optometry, nursing, mental health, trauma recovery and children’s advocacy services. The proposed plans allow for redeveloping a portion of South Campus for a North St. Louis County Business and Workforce Development District. They also feature a residential housing area near the UMSL North MetroLink Station and Millennium Student Center and utilize space by the campus entry off of I-70 to include athletics and third-party development.