Amidst unprecedented challenges, UNT steadfastly moves forward to support our students

As COVID-19 has presented tremendous challenges and forced changes to higher education, the University of North Texas has responded with resilience to adapt, not only transforming the way it conducts business, but cultivating plans to support and ensure students thrive in a rapidly changing world.

During his first-ever virtual State of the University address, UNT President Neal Smatresk highlighted past achievements and reiterated how prior planning and strategic investments have positioned UNT for continued success. He also celebrated the university’s persistent response to COVID-19, discussed how shifting student demographics will require further transformation, and outlined the questions that must be answered to help identify the university’s next steps.

UNT’s list of accomplishments for the 2019-20 academic year is long. In addition to hiring national academy members, increasing the number of academic programs in the top 100, expanding enrollment and offering more financial aid and scholarship support, the university also implemented new retention programs, rapidly expanded corporate partnerships, made major commitments to become a more diverse and equitable campus, increased research submissions, achieved Minority-Serving and Hispanic-Serving Institution status and graduated a record number of students.

“No wonder we have been called one of the top 10 public universities on the rise in the nation and we made big moves in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, moving from 140 to 121 for public institutions this year, leapfrogging many of our competitors,” Smatresk said. “It’s no accident that we have done so well, despite the challenges and uncertainties of the COVID pandemic. We are moving ahead as an institution because of our commitment to our values of creativity, caring and resilience.”

Each of UNT’s past accomplishments –– obtaining financial stability, launching UNT Online and a partnership with Coursera, receiving Tier One status from the Carnegie Classification, supporting students with student success and retention initiatives, and cultivating corporate partnerships ­­–– serve as pieces of the puzzle and are helping us build UNT’s future to better meet the needs of our communities and students.

While UNT achieved record fall enrollment of nearly 41,000, the COVID-19 global pandemic has resulted in a $30M to $50M loss of revenues from the state and auxiliary departments, which have caused the delay of several major building projects. To help students who are struggling financially, UNT is awarding more than $19M in grants and aid from the CAREs Act, Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund, and Minority-Serving Institution funding.

Smatresk also identified additional storm clouds on the horizon for UNT. A decline in freshmen and transfer enrollment for those who were hit hard economically by COVID will require the university to redesign how it enrolls and retains students. As the number of traditionally college-qualified students declines nationwide, Smatresk said UNT must deemphasize ACTs and SATs, implement student success initiatives unique to demographic groups, and create stronger pathways to employment with the UNT alumni network and corporate partners.

“Fortunately, we have steadily charted a course over the past few years to become an institution known for educational innovation, and that innovation and hard work is key to our success during this difficult time,” Smatresk said. “In short, we’ve shown that we can offer Tier One excellence while expanding access and affordability for our increasingly diverse population.”

Currently, UNT is focused on strengthening its diverse culture and creating a more inclusive campus climate, furthering student success and career preparation in partnership with the private sector, offering more access through advanced online and hybrid delivery, and growing access with affordability.

“We’re well on our way to becoming a preeminent next generation university that will be a global leader in educational innovation,” Smatresk said.

Smatresk called on campus leadership to work together this fall in answering the following questions and identifying the initiatives and strategic investments needed for UNT’s future.

  • How will we perform our mission in the face of the changes we see in the world?
  • As we expand our first generation and Minority-Serving Institution status, how do we promote our students’ success and their entry into the job market?
  • Will we be able to offer better career development and awareness to meet the needs of private partners and the regional economy?
  • How will we retain our students and give them a great experience?
  • Can we strategically grow our international and graduate populations?
  • How do we build a pipeline for Black and Latinx scholars and researchers?
  • Can we create a truly inclusive environment where students, faculty and staff learn to work in diverse groups?
  • How do we continue to move deeper into Tier One?
  • Will new technology help us better expand access and learning for our students wherever they are?
  • How will our campus plans and facility needs change to help us achieve our goals?
  • What does remote student recruiting look like and how do we diversify our faculty and staff to reflect our student demographics?

“If we can begin to address these questions and develop initiatives and processes to invest in that expand what we’ve started, this puzzle will come together and it will form the vision that guides us into the future,” Smatresk said.