President Lepre Sets Goals in Inaugural State of the University Address: 'Move Forward with Excellence'
SALISBURY, MD---Increasing enrollment, enhancing national rankings, expanding diversity and inclusion leadership, introducing new varsity athletics, increasing scholarship funding and exploring the creation of new academic pathways are some of the key initiatives Salisbury University President Carolyn Ringer Lepre announced for the institution during her inaugural State of the University address on Tuesday, February 7.
The overall goal: “Move forward with excellence.”
“We will move forward with the purpose of transforming lives through academic excellence; life-changing, high-impact practices; inclusion and belonging,” she told the hundreds of students, faculty, staff and supporters, as well as state and local elected officials, who packed Holloway Hall Auditorium for SU’s first State of the University address since 2017.
The Salisbury Seven
All objectives announced support a pledge Lepre made to the SU community, which she called the “Salisbury Seven”:
• “We will invest in the people who deliver on the promises we make to our students.
• “We will consistently deliver a rigorous, student-focused academic program taught by world-class educators on a world-class campus.
• “We will have a continual commitment to inclusion, diversity, opportunity and equity, and the cultivation of a sense of belonging.
• “We will strategically grow to serve the needs of the Eastern Shore, the State of Maryland and the nation while holding fast to our identity as a student-focused institution that doesn’t just say it cares about its people; it shows it with every decision.
• “We will be known for our innovative, high-impact practices and our belief that we are educating the whole person for a lifetime of civic leadership and community service.
• “We will raise the resources needed to support SU’s programs, its students and its culture.
• “We will strengthen our institutional identity and reputation.”
To uphold these promises, Lepre will pursue a series of specific goals and initiatives, including returning SU’s graduate and undergraduate enrollment to 8,500 (an optimal number for a campus of SU’s size and resources, she noted) from its current 7,200.
One area of focus will be graduate enrollment, with a target of graduate students making up 12% of the University’s student population by 2028.
“I challenge us to expand our repertoire of five-year programs designed to create pathways for our undergraduate students to stay and complete their graduate work. We know this is a value-add to our students by reducing time to degree and know our students would stay with us if they could,” said Lepre, adding that she encouraged revisiting a proposal to create a new School of Graduate Studies and Research at SU.
New Programs and Partnerships
With an eye toward attracting more student-athletes, she announced that SU will introduce men’s and women’s golf as new varsity athletics, bringing the institution’s total number of varsity teams to 23. For the past four years, more than 50% of SU’s student-athletes qualified for conference Academic Honor Rolls. Last year, 12 were named to Academic All-District teams, and in Fall 2022, 118 earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
In addition, the University will work to improve its already high retention rates over the next five years and continue its commitment to attracting transfer students. It also will encourage non-SU students to take advantage of state initiatives such as the Maryland Transfer Advantage Program (for community college students) and Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (for high school dual enrollment) to earn SU credits and degrees.
At the same time, SU will seek out new strategic partnerships with local industries, such as health care and aerospace, to ensure the institution is producing graduates that meet workforce needs while also helping students leave the University with high-quality jobs. In 2021-22, 81% of soon-to-be graduates accepted a job offer prior to graduation, and 98% of job-seeking graduates were employed within one year.
Supporting access to education, Lepre announced a goal of 100 new endowed scholarships as part of fundraising efforts for SU’s 100th anniversary in 2025.
Rising in National Rankings
The President also set her sights on increasing the University’s national rankings, with a goal of being recognized as a top 25 university in U.S. News & World Report’s Regional Universities — North category in the next five years. During that same timeframe, she also has set a goal of returning SU to its position among the top 10 public universities in that category, a feat last reached more than a decade ago, in 2012.
SU has a long history of being ranked among the nation’s best universities by U.S. News and others, while also being heralded as a best-value institution, “a nod to the return on investment we provide to students and families,” she noted.
Equity and Inclusion
In the area of equity and inclusion, Lepre vowed to continue moving forward with diversifying SU’s student body to better reflect Maryland’s demographic makeup, and to seek out more diverse faculty and staff. To support those ambitions, she announced the creation of a new executive position: vice president for belonging, diversity and inclusion, as well as plans to hire a diversity recruitment and retention coordinator.
Additionally, SU is creating a campus-wide diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) plan; working to diversify faculty through new hires; and seeking to advance research related to DEI and social justice.
“Our University is strengthened by cultivating an inclusive environment and celebrating what each of us brings to our collective experience,” Lepre said.
SU Community Input
Much of the President’s vision for SU stemmed from meetings with hundreds of faculty, staff, students and area residents during her first six months at Salisbury to learn about their views of the University and its strengths, challenges and opportunities. From a shared focus on student and academic success to a desire for deeper community engagement and inclusive excellence, Lepre discovered what was most important to stakeholders.
“I learned our people are everything,” she said. “Time and again, I heard what makes our University special is how deeply we care about one another and about our students.”
So valuable was this input that Lepre announced the creation of a new Strategic Innovation Fund of $500,000 annually for three years to fund proposals from the SU community for projects and programs that help achieve her vision for the University. This will give SU’s students, faculty, staff and others the opportunity to have a direct impact on the institution’s future.
Other new initiatives unveiled during the State of the University included:
- An increased focus on study abroad and study away programs, including more scholarship funding for such programs, with a goal of becoming the Maryland higher education institution with the highest percentage of students with global experiences;
- Eliminating the retention gap between Pell Grant and non-Pell Grant recipients, and white and non-white students;
- Creating a facilities plan to attract students and support high-quality educational experiences, including the renovation of the current Blackwell Hall into a student services hub and construction of a new event space in the front of Holloway Hall;
- Advocating for State support to transform campus and improve the academic experience through new facilities such as a dedicated College of Health and Human Services building and renovated student recreational facility to replace Maggs Physical Activities Center, built in 1977;
- Salisbury on the Road, a program through which Lepre will visit alumni groups throughout the region to strengthen SU’s alumni network, enhance the University’s culture of philanthropy and encourage more meaningful alumni engagement;
- A stronger emphasis on employee wellness and professional development;
- The evaluation and restructuring of SU’s budget to ensure the University’s spending is the most strategic it can be; and
- Continuing to celebrate successes and tell the SU story through its “Make Tomorrow Yours” brand.
Celebration of Success
During her address, Lepre celebrated successes from the previous year, including student, faculty and program awards; national rankings; new financial aid programs; major gifts to enhance academic programs and facilities; and approval of a new general education curriculum. She also highlighted some of the national corporations currently employing SU students, from Amazon and AT&T, to Warner Bros. and Wells Fargo.
Such positive outcomes support the values she noted she shared with the greater SU community:
- “I believe a college education has the capacity not just to change the life of the student, but can make a difference to their families, communities and generations to come.
- “I believe if we are not inclusive, we cannot be excellent.
- “I believe there is little more powerful than saying ‘thank you’— and meaning it.
- “I believe we need courage to say that sometimes things need to be done differently in order to achieve continued success.
- “And I believe there is something incredibly meaningful about caring for people and putting them first, treating people the way you want to be treated — with grace and kindness.”
A Future of Excellence
Lepre identified these values as the cornerstone of what makes SU a great place to learn, to work and to visit — and the best, she believes, is yet to come.
“As we move ahead with excellence, our future is bright,” she told the audience. “Salisbury University is creating opportunities to contribute to the overall wellbeing of our students, our employees, the State of Maryland and the world.
“The state of our University is strong! And I hope you will work with me to disrupt the status quo, build pride in place, embody what it means to care for one another, and facilitate innovation so we can leave SU a better place — a stronger place — than ever before.”
A transcript of the full State of the University address is available online.
Learn more about SU and opportunities to Make Tomorrow Yours at www.salisbury.edu.