It has been a remarkable year for George Mason University, one of progress and achievement. Together, we helped a record 8,500 students complete a life-changing degree. We attracted our largest, most diverse class ever. We produced scientific breakthroughs in a number of disciplines and were recognized nationally and internationally for our scholarship. And we made significant progress in strengthening our university so it can achieve even greater impact in the future.
This is an exciting time for Mason. The work we do and the impact we have cannot be achieved without the immense effort and skill put forth every day by our faculty and staff, with the critical support of our community. I want to thank each of you for your hard work and dedication.
This also has been a year of challenge and introspection. One of the great benefits of being a large and diverse institution is having a wealth of backgrounds and perspectives that push us to think differently about Mason. Everyone has a stake in our progress, and I applaud you for prodding us to be the best university we can be.
We achieved a milestone by joining, for the first time, the elite group of 115 colleges and universities with the highest Carnegie research classification in the nation. Our new research status sends a signal that we are a major player in the research fabric of our country and our region—and that we are ripe for partnerships and investments that can multiply our impact even further.
In December, we announced a new research partnership with Inova Health System that will expand our capabilities in biomedical research. By bringing together the resources of the leading research university and healthcare provider in the region, we are poised to discover new treatments for cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and neurological disorders. The partnership will benefit from new state and federal grants as well as private philanthropy.
This partnership is an example of how we can enrich the innovation ecosystem of our region and drive our economy forward. The Washington Region Roadmap, a study led by Mason in collaboration with business leaders and other academic institutions, makes it clear that the prosperity of our region will be determined by our ability to innovate, transfer technology from research laboratories, and incubate new startups. We are doing our part.
Our university-wide commitment to research is benefiting our students directly. Increasing numbers of students are working side by side with our faculty, gaining unique hands-on experience in cutting-edge science and technology, policy, humanities, and the arts. In April, 74 students – the most in university history – were accepted to present at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, the most notable event of its kind in the country. Our undergraduate research program has earned accolades and has won the national award from the Council on Undergraduate Research.
That is just one example of how our students continue to excel. Seventeen Mason students were winners or finalists for prestigious national awards. Of them, nine are minority students and seven identify as being the first generation in their family to go to college – including our first Udall Scholarship winner in seven years. Another student was one of 12 – among 400 applicants – selected for the Carnegie Junior Fellows program.
We had a record five Boren Scholars and Fellows, a selective program that helps exceptional students spend time abroad and gain access to careers in the federal government. We had two Truman Scholarship finalists, honoring the nation’s top aspiring public servants, including one who received the Public Policy in International Affairs Scholarship to study nonprofit leadership at Princeton this summer.
Our community recognizes and supports our progress. We were pleased with the investments in higher education in the new budget put forth by Governor McAuliffe and the General Assembly, which includes major capital appropriations to rebuild Robinson Hall and modernize utilities infrastructure, as well as additional operating funds that helped us keep tuition increases at the lowest levels in recent history.
On the philanthropic front, we are closing in on our $500 million goal for our Faster Farther campaign and should reach that mark during the 2016-17 academic year – well ahead of plan. This year we will once again close our books with a record fundraising result, thanks in great part to major gifts of $30 million to the law school and $10 million to the school of policy and government. But all gifts, large and small, make a difference. Alumni donors are up 13.5 percent, and alumni donations are up 61 percent.
We continue to strengthen our financial foundation and adapt our internal budget and finance systems to the new reality in public higher education. Our new budgeting system, which is being rolled out as we speak, provides more information to the academic units about their revenues and expenses and creates incentives for the units to be more entrepreneurial and find ways to operate more efficiently. I appreciate everyone’s efforts as we continue to refine the new budget model and extend it this coming year.
In the area of digital innovation, we are working to finalize a relationship with a private sector partner that will expand our online education capabilities. Our plan is to leverage third-party resources to offer many more options for our students and greater access to courses and programs.
In addition, this fall we will launch new bachelor’s degree programs in rehabilitation science and computational and data sciences, and new master’s degrees in athletic training and bioinformatics management. Other new programs await SCHEV approval.
The 2015-16 academic year was not without challenges. The law school naming gift opened a debate that echoed beyond our campus and even reached the front pages of the national media. These important discussions made us a better university and further reinforced our commitment to building an inclusive university where all ideas are welcome.
Much remains to be done in the area of diversity. We are fortunate to have one of the most diverse student populations in the nation. But we trail our peer institutions in terms of faculty and staff diversity. Given our location, our history and our values, we should be leading the pack. We will be working with our deans to execute our diversity recruitment plan and increase consistency in search committee training and performance.
The combination of academic excellence and a steadfast commitment to serving a growing and diverse student body is a hallmark of where we are as a university. Thank you for your part in pushing that mission forward.
I hope this summer you will have a chance to relax and reflect and that you share in my anticipation of another dynamic year.