In her annual State of the University address, President Julie Sullivan celebrated the work of a challenging year, and shared optimism for St. Thomas’ future. Sullivan also used the address to unveil, for the first time, St. Thomas 2025. The strategic plan focuses on 16 priorities – six new and emerging and 10 ongoing – and is meant to guide faculty and staff over the next five years as they prepare students for the next 50 years.
"We're at a monumental milestone in our history," Sullivan said. "I believe that guided by our Catholic mission, we can play an important role in addressing the grand challenges of our day, and we can better meet student needs, improve their outcomes and distinguish ourselves nationally."
Here are five observations from Sullivan's virtual State of the University 2021 address:
1. "We're here; we're open; we're stable financially."
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, President Julie Sullivan said St. Thomas has remained healthy. Nearly 2,000 students are living on campus, which is two-thirds the normal capacity. Enrollment is down 2% from last spring, however, credit hours are up 3%. Sullivan said it's robust given the environment St. Thomas is working in.
Sullivan credits "significant sacrifices" from the St. Thomas community, including salary reductions and a pause on retirement contributions, both of which have been restored, for covering budget shortfalls. With vaccine distribution ramping up and another federal COVID-19 stimulus package, Sullivan said she expects relief soon.
"I'm so proud of the efforts everyone in our community has put forth to keep our community healthy. We've avoided classroom transmission and significant on-campus transmission of the virus," Sullivan said. "It's really been your hard work, your sacrifice and your dedication that has seen us through this. I couldn't be more grateful."
To hear more on how St. Thomas has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, go to timecode 4:17 in the video below.
2. St. Thomas aspires to become a top 10 national Catholic university.
St. Thomas aims to propel to the top 10 national Catholic universities over the next 10 years. Sullivan said it'll be key to achieve the level of excellence impact and reputation that distinguishes those institutions that are among the top 10 national Catholic universities.
These universities have stronger student outcomes, higher retention and graduation rates and they have more resources devoted to supporting their students. This includes how the universities in the top 10 meet a greater percentage of their students' financial need; have a higher endowment per student; and have stronger visibility and diversity of draw in terms of students’ home states.
"You'll see that many priorities in our [St. Thomas 2025] plan are actually targeted toward improving student outcomes, having more resources to support our students and increasing our visibility and draw, Sullivan said. "We want to do so because we want our common good-inspired work, our mission-inspired work to have a broader reach and a bolder impact. We want to have a more significant difference in the world and a broader impact."
To hear more on how St. Thomas is poised to become a top 10 national catholic university, go to timecode 15:54 in the video below.
3. To reach new students, St. Thomas must advance the common good more boldly and broadly.
Sullivan said that St. Thomas 2025 "focuses on what we have to do internally in terms of being more diverse, equitable and inclusive as a community. It also focuses on how we are preparing our students to really meet the needs of society and to really be prepared to make a difference in this world and address the grand challenges of the day." Specifically, she highlighted:
- Preparing more diverse leaders for STEAM careers, leading to more innovative teams
- Growing Morrison Family College of Health and School of Nursing to improve health outcomes in our world
- Working to increase the number of teachers of color and equipping teachers with cultural and trauma-informed skills
- Drawing from a broader geographic region, including student-athletes, who can enhance our campus mission
To hear an overview of what St. Thomas 2025 calls for over the next five years, go to timecode 21:16 in the video below.
4. How St. Thomas will achieve St. Thomas 2025 priorities
Sullivan noted that financial resources are needed to accomplish these goals, including through a new comprehensive capital campaign launching this summer.
“The financial resources will come from fundraising. They will come from the quasi-endowment fund. They will come from financing. [And] we will have to generate new revenue … by recruiting more students.”
She stressed: “Our number one fundraising priority will continue to be scholarships” with bigger endowments devoted to scholarships.
To hear more on the plan to accomplish the priorities, go to timecode 38:40 in the video below.
5. Our entire community must collectively own and embrace St. Thomas 2025 to achieve these goals.
Sullivan called on the entire community to use St. Thomas 2025 as the framework for all ongoing work.
"We have to collectively embrace the priorities," Sullivan said. "I really want everyone to see themselves in the work in this plan. I really believe we must have world-class talent at every level of this organization. Engaged employees, strong culture: That's what's going to allow us to do all the things we want to do both internally and externally.”
To hear more on the plan to accomplish the priorities, go to timecode 59:36 in the video below.