Celebrating Past, Looking to Future Themes of 2020 State of the University Address

News of a $20 million scholarship gift and the announcement that St. Thomas will adopt a test-optional policy both drew applause at the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium Thursday as President Julie Sullivan delivered the 2020 State of the University address.

The announcements – both tied to efforts to increase access and affordability for students who want a St. Thomas education – served as a bridge between updates about the accomplishments of the St. Thomas 2020 strategic plan and Sullivan’s vision for a future that will continue to be marked by change throughout the university.

“My optimism about St. Thomas has never been brighter,” Sullivan said. “In a rapidly changing world driven by problem-solvers and those with a strong liberal arts foundation, St. Thomas has never been more important and more relevant as a leader in the future of higher education. We are grounded in a strong foundation and ready to embrace our next chapter, extending the reach of our mission and impact across the country and throughout the world.”

Missed the State of the University? Watch or listen below to an interview with President Sullivan as she recaps the address with Senior Media Relations Manager Vineeta Sawkar.

Here are some key highlights from the hour-long address:

The St. Thomas 2020 strategic plan has laid a strong foundation for advancing the common good

Sullivan cited the revised and modernized undergraduate core curriculum, the launch of the Dougherty Family College and Morrison Family College of Health, as well as the establishment of the standalone School of Education as hallmarks of the St. Thomas 2020 strategic plan. More than simply launching schools, though, Sullivan highlighted their unique positions for being able to serve the common good.

Watch a short clip below from Sullivan’s interview with senior media relations manager Vineeta Sawkar as they discuss the impact of the 2020 strategic plan.  

New Kanthak Scholars Program to provide tuition and housing assistance for students with high financial need

The first round of applause came for the announcement of the Kanthak Scholars Program, which will award four-year scholarships to around 30 undergraduate students each year; the program will provide $10,000 per year for the first two years – when the students are required to live on campus – and $5,000 for tuition for the remaining two years.

“The ability to support many more students through the Kanthak Scholars Program is a dream come true,” Sullivan said. “I am so grateful that we can offer additional financial support to offset the cost of a St. Thomas education and to provide equitable access to residence halls. This is a giant leap forward in increasing access for students and families with financial need.”

Increasing access to a college education for under-resourced students front and center

Sullivan noted two big changes designed to provide more opportunities for students to attain a St. Thomas education. First, the university is changing the way it awards financial aid, taking into account both academic credentials and financial need levels when determining aid amounts. Secondly, Sullivan announced the adoption of the test-optional policy.

New athletics conference brings new – national – opportunities

Sullivan acknowledged the role athletics can play in elevating St. Thomas’ national profile. The university is currently awaiting word on whether the NCAA will allow it to join the Division I Summit League.

“I am very confident that this investment will be paced to be digestible financially and that this move will increase our reputation overall and academically and will further extend our mission across a national stage,” she said.

St. Thomas 2025: Participation wanted!

Discussions are underway across campus about the future aspirations and priorities of the University of St. Thomas for the next five years. The co-chairs of Strategic Planning, Dr. Katherina Pattit from the Opus College of Business, and Dr. Ed Clark, CIO and chief digital officer, have invited every member of our community to participate in St. Thomas 2025.

Community members can click here to enter the community engagement process in Canvas. 

Change is in the air

Sullivan discussed the shifting higher education landscape, including waning confidence in value, changing demographics and increasing financial need for high school graduates. She pointed to St. Thomas’ flat net tuition – amount in from tuition after financial aid is awarded – as a positive sign of St. Thomas’ steps to this point to make St. Thomas affordable for more students.

She expressed optimism about the value proposition of St. Thomas as more and more jobs require the skills gained from a four-year degree, and acknowledged the increasing need to be proactive in adapting in the face of inevitable changes.

“My ask of you as a university community is to embrace these headwinds, embrace change, and to recognize that each and every one of us must be part of adapting St. Thomas for the future. Our new reality is that we cannot stay the same. Change is our new normal. And as humans, we will resist change, because that’s what humans do,” Sullivan said.

Looking ahead, Sullivan noted that St. Thomas is at an inflection point as it looks to take its place among the top tier of Catholic universities in the country. She pointed to the recent articulation of St. Thomas’ 10-year aspiration statement as it pursues that goal: “Widely recognized for forward-thinking, values-based education and inclusive excellence, the University of St. Thomas is a premier Catholic institution for learning, studying and work and a partner of choice for communities and organizations from the local to the global.”

To punctuate the need for continued evolution, Sullivan closed with a newly produced video showcasing the spirit and vision of change at the university.

Click here for a full transcript of President Sullivan’s speech. You can also access a video of the 2020 State of the University address here.