Welcome back! I hope you had a pleasant and invigorating summer and are as excited as I am about the new academic year.
I want to congratulate and thank our admissions team and all faculty and staff involved in recruiting what is projected to be the largest, most diverse, and most academically prepared freshman class we have ever had. We also project this to be our largest incoming class of transfer students, likely pushing our enrollment past 37,000 for the first time. Many thanks to all faculty, staff, and student volunteers who greeted our new students last week and helped them transition from getting here to being here.
Our university continues to grow at a remarkable pace, accounting for nearly half the total enrollment growth in Virginia public universities in the past decade. And we are not only serving more students, but are delivering extraordinary value to them. With your help and guidance, our students are graduating at record rates and are pursuing meaningful lives and productive careers upon graduation. From a financial perspective, Mason graduates register student loan default rates that are a fraction of the norm among large, public, urban universities and are indeed on par with elite, highly selective, and flagship schools.
Our mission is rooted in the belief that access to a world-class education at a top-tier research institution should not be restricted to the few but open to everyone with potential. We are devoted to providing access to excellence, and that sets us apart from many of our peers.
Just this month the Academic Ranking of World Universities cited Mason as one of the 95 academically strongest institutions in the U.S. and one of the top 300 in the world. In some disciplines we placed even higher, sharing a space normally reserved for a small number of elite institutions. And leading indicators of scholarship and research activity – such as research expenditures, which were up almost 15 percent this year – signal that we are making significant progress in solidifying our position among the nation’s top tier research institutions.
Our university is also financially stronger. Despite receiving significantly less public support per student from the Commonwealth than the other doctoral public universities, and while maintaining our tuition significantly below our peers, virtually all our financial indicators are up, and our credit rating was upgraded this year. Three main factors contributed to these improvements: the vibrancy of our academic programs, the work of our staff and administration throughout the university to find efficiencies, and the increased effectiveness of our fundraising efforts. Our Faster Farther campaign, intended to bring in $500 million by the end of this calendar year, will conclude in December having topped $600 million, thus culminating the most successful fundraising period in Mason history. I want to especially thank the many Mason faculty and staff who, over the course of the past two years, have given nearly $2 million to the university.
Over the summer, I have had the opportunity to reflect on our future and have had multiple conversations with our deans, senior administrators, faculty members, visitors, trustees, and friends about our priorities for the coming year. While not exhaustive, you can read at this link the ambitious set of goals the Board of Visitors and I agreed to pursue this year.
Among them, I want to highlight the ADVANCE partnership with Northern Virginia Community College, a groundbreaking program which will result in lower costs and increased graduation rates for potentially thousands of students every year. Hundreds of faculty, advisors, and student service professionals from both institutions have worked hard to put together a program that will include over 250 students across 20 programs in its first year.
We are also actively pursuing a partnership to provide online education for adult learners and working professionals. An estimated 37 million Americans have some college credit but no degree. Our mission to provide access to excellence must include this population, and creative partnerships with third-party organizations may offer opportunities for us to do just that.
This year we plan to roll out Mason Impact, delivering on our goal to engage all our students in high-impact learning experiences, from research and entrepreneurial projects to global engagement and service learning.
Our commitment to inclusion means that we must promote an environment where all can thrive. We’ve made strides to build a more diverse faculty and staff, but there’s still much work to be done. We need to strengthen inclusion, increase the proportion of instructional and research faculty from underrepresented groups, create a more supportive work environment, and develop courses that prepare students to take full advantage of the rich diversity of people and ideas they encounter at Mason.
We must also continue to invest in our facilities and lay the foundation for Mason’s future. The Core Campus Project entails, among other important improvements, taking down Robinson Hall to build a state-of-the-art facility that will serve as the centerpiece of our Fairfax Campus for generations. We will be expanding our facilities in the SciTech Campus to accommodate growing enrollments in engineering and other disciplines. We also are working on concepts for West Campus, SciTech, and Arlington to support our growing enrollment and our research and innovation enterprises.
By almost any measure, the university is impacting more lives and delivering more value than at any time in its history. We can be very proud of everything we’ve accomplished, but I’m even more excited about what lies ahead.
Here’s to a great year!