Interim Chancellor Kristin Sobolik touts UMSL as an ‘institution of opportunity’ in annual address

by | Sep 19, 2019

Members of the campus community gathered at the Touhill to hear Sobolik's vision for where the university is and is headed in her State of the University Address.
2019 State of the University Address

Interim Chancellor and Provost Kristin Sobolik discusses a study by The New York Times that showed UMSL exceeding expectations at graduating students during her State of the University Address Thursday at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The University of Missouri–St. Louis continues to excel as an institution where all students can thrive and position themselves for career success.

Interim Chancellor and Provost Kristin Sobolik celebrated the university’s accomplishments helping people, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, learn and improve their economic standing during the annual State of the University Address on Thursday afternoon at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center.

“UMSL’s fundamental purpose is to educate and graduate students, and to provide access to success,” Sobolik told an audience that included University of Missouri System President Mun Choi and members of the UMSL community from across campus assembled in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. “UMSL is an institution of opportunity.”

Over the past year, the university has awarded nearly 3,000 degrees and certificates, bringing its growing list of alumni to 103,000. With 41 percent of UMSL students Pell Grant eligible and 76 percent receiving financial aid, many graduates overcome financial challenges on their way to the commencement stage.

A study last spring in The New York Times revealed that UMSL’s six-year graduation rate is 5 percentage points higher than expected given the rates at universities with similar demographics. It was the only public university in the state that over-performed its expected rate.

More recently, U.S. News & World Report listed UMSL among the top 100 schools in the country in its new social mobility rankings, which measure how successful universities are at graduating students who receive federal Pell Grants. UMSL was one of only two universities in Missouri to rank in the top 100.

Among recent graduates, 94 percent are either successfully employed or continuing their education, and the ones moving into the workforce have found an average starting salary of $44,100.

The university has been able to support its students through strategic investments in scholarships at a time when the cost of higher education can limit access.

Sobolik noted that UMSL has realized a balanced budget for the third straight year and maintained its reserves – and the only UM System university to provide merit raises for three consecutive years – but there is more work ahead to ensure UMSL remains on solid financial ground.

“Student headcount is down about 2.8 percent at 16,007 students – which mirrors a national trend of declining enrollments for the past eight years,” Sobolik said. “But we must rise to the challenge and reverse this trend to provide the opportunity for transformative education to more people.”

Other highlights from Sobolik’s presentation:

  • A new $1.4M grant to support economic development is leading to the creation of the Innovation Interchange, an online portal connecting researches at UM System universities as well as SIU System universities with business and industry. The portal is under construction that will serve as a bridge between the research expertise of a combined 4,000 research faculty with industry research and development needs.
  • One year after then-Chancellor Tom George announced the formation of the Community Innovation and Action Center at last year’s State of the University Address, it now boast 27 affiliated staff and student positions to support community efforts.
  • UMSL continues to support economic growth in its own backyard through University Square, a community development corporation that includes UMSL, Normandy, North County Incorporated and surrounding communities. It is finalizing details for a privately funded housing and retail development in Normandy next to the UMSL South Metro Station with an announcement anticipated as early at Nov. 1.
  • The university will begin implementing a space consolidation plan this year to condense its academic/research footprint onto North Campus. The School of Social Work will be relocated to the Social Sciences and Business Building, the Department of Music to the Arts and Administration Building and Human Resources to Woods Hall. Bellerive Hall and the Music Building will be demolished to decrease deferred maintenance.

Sobolik’s presentation slide deck can be viewed here.

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

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Biology student James Ott and Sustainable Energy & Environmental Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla pull weeds last week in the native gardens north of the Recreation Wellness Center.