1st Tuesday: Seven years of success promoting the University of Minnesota's brand and values

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

[SLIDE 1 full slide deck at end of transcript]

Good afternoon, and to all of our friends and alumni, welcome and welcome back to our Twin Cities campus. And thank you Regents McMillan, Omari and Powell for joining us here today.

The last time I spoke to this 1st Tuesday audience was during my fourth month as president of the University, nearly seven years ago. Much has changed over those years, but not the lessons of a story I told from this same podium then. Assuming most of you weren’t here or have forgotten it, I’m going to tell it again, because it applies in 2018 as much as it did in 2011 … and, frankly, I can relate to it even better today than I could way back then.

It's a story about a man who graduated from this University in the depths of the Great Depression, a man who was always crafting, honing and selling his brands and their reputation. By 1991, he had grown many businesses. It came to pass that a fellow named David Kidwell visited Minneapolis in hopes of becoming the new Dean of our business school. Candidate Kidwell gave a brilliant presentation before a gathering of community leaders, and that fellow who grew up during the Depression — a man named Curt Carlson — was in the audience.

Curt beckoned Kidwell for a conversation, and Kidwell figured this was a good sign for his job prospects. After all, the business school Kidwell wanted to lead was named after this guy! So, Curt Carlson, salesman that he was, put his arm around Kidwell's shoulder and the architect of the Radisson brand asked him this penetrating question . . .

He asked: "David …“tell me what hotel are you staying in?”

Curt Carlson was always thinking of his brand, always promoting it, and he expected others to do the same. And you know what? I'm selling a brand, too, whether it’s to prospective students and their families, to faculty and staff we’re recruiting, to legislators or to donors. It’s a brand attached to a noble — and, to me, emotional — mission. It’s a mission with an extraordinary statewide impact. 

With hospitals, stadiums, marching bands, an army of researchers, a community of teachers and scholars …
With campuses here, in Crookston, Duluth, Morris and Rochester, and with the future cultural, civic, health care, and business leaders of Minnesota in our hands.
Simply put, it’s a terrific brand and being its steward-in-chief is an honor and great responsibility.

So, today — for this audience that feels great affection for the Carlson School and this University — I want to offer some key points for you to leave here with and to better sell our University to your neighbors, your co-workers, legislators you contact and to a public that is increasingly skeptical of the value of higher education and, particularly, the remarkable value and deep and broad impact of the University of Minnesota.

In so doing, I’d like to review a bit of what’s happened since I spoke last at 1st Tuesday in 2011. In 2011 I asserted that we deserved to be in the conversation among the nation’s best comprehensive public research universities.  Then, we were not. And I pledged to work towards that goal. Michigan, North Carolina, UCLA, Berkeley … you know the usual suspects … I wanted to be mentioned with them.
We hadn’t been in that mix until two years ago when a respected research organization that analyzes a series of metrics confirmed that we are, in fact, among the big boys and girls.

[SLIDE 2]       

It’s called the Center for Measuring University Performance. The CMUP crunches numbers and measures the across-the-board excellence of the nation’s universities.

It’s not like the U.S. News and World Report rankings, which often are gamed by colleges.
You can’t fake out these nerds at CMUP who examine, among other things, every public university’s federal research dollars, incoming ACT scores, faculty named to their national academies, endowments and philanthropic giving . . . the whole range of excellence.
In total, they look at nine categories to paint a full picture of an institution, and then determine which public universities rank in the Top 25 in all of the nine categories.


And guess what? Only 8 public universities in the entire nation rank so high in all the categories. Berkeley, UCLA, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio State, and - well - Wisconsin. Oh … and us!

Yes, by just about every measure, we’re one of the 8 best public research universities in the nation. And, by the way, we’re also the 8th most active public research university in the nation even though we’re the 21st most populous state. We spend about $900 million a year on discoveries from pharmaceuticals to plastics to medical devices to water quality to food safety approaches to educational software to cancer cures. I’ll get to all of that a little later.
But I do want to focus on some of the other elements that place us in —with apologies to Coach Fleck — ELITE company — and that demonstrate the real progress we’ve made in recent years.


Take graduation rates. At the turn of this century, Twin Cities campus undergraduates got their degrees in four years at the embarrassing rate of 28 percent. Totally unacceptable. But we made investments in counselors and advisors . . . We invested in ensuring classes were available . . . We capped tuition for those taking 13 credits or more . . . We attracted better students . . . We became a more residential campus . . . And we made the four-year graduation rate a huge priority with our freshmen.

Last year, 68 percent of our students finished in four years, which is critical to them and their families and the state’s work force. And we’re closing in on a very impressive 70 percent in the next year or two. Perhaps more importantly is the improvement among our low-income and middle-income students, those who are eligible for Pell Grants. Ten years ago, 35 percent of those students graduated in four years. Now, they’re graduating at a rate of 60 percent, with the gap narrowing with all of our students. That’s very important to me. The fact is, many of our low-income students are also the first in their families to attend and graduate from college.


About 26 percent of our students on the Twin Cities campus are first-generation college students . . . just like I was in my family. And on our Crookston and Morris campuses, you’re likely to find about 40 percent of the students as the first in their families to attend college. That gateway to success and opportunity is so important to me and to us as a University. We continue to be a driver of social mobility in our state even as there are tremendous educational and economic gaps. Moving students of all income backgrounds out in four years with solid degrees from a world-class research university is good for the state and its economy as the diverse pipeline of energetic young people flows more rapidly into Minnesota’s talent force.

Of course, when you stay on campus for five or six years to get that college degree, you’re paying additional tuition and, so, facing potential debt. This allows me to turn to one of my favorite topics: tuition and debt. The way that we have kept tuition increases below the rate of inflation during my time in office is one of my proudest achievements.


Let’s briefly take a look at the in-state tuition increases over the past three decades. As you can see, generally, they’ve been rising. So, I hope you can see the gold line there in steep decline. Those are the years I’ve been president. In the past six University budgets that I’ve overseen, our Minnesota resident undergraduates have enjoyed the smallest average annual increase since the 1950’s.

Our Minnesota residents have seen an average annual increase of just 1 percent over those years and four-tenths of one percent on our four other campuses. 
That’s thanks to some investments by our Legislature,  some strong solid financial management by my senior leadership team and our Regents, and our deep commitment to Minnesota students and their families. This all allows us to counter the narrative that seems to be rampant and taken as gospel: that every college student in America and Minnesota comes out of college with hellacious and burdensome debt.

Yes, it’s true, some do. Yes, debt weighs on many young people. But the horror stories you hear nationally about alleged “hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt” simply do not exist — except for a very tiny handful of students — at our University. Let me show you a few charts that prove this, but let me preface my demonstration with this fact that I want you to not forget.


This past year, 43 percent of our Twin Cities campus undergraduates completed their degrees with no official debt from this University. Did they have some credit card debt that we’re not aware of? Could be. But when it comes to loans from us, 43 percent had zero debt.


Now, let’s look at the 57 percent who graduated with debt. The average debt among our 2017 bachelor’s graduates was about $26,000. I know, that is a lot of money, but, to me, a solid investment in one’s future, given that a college graduate generally earns at least one million more dollars over a lifetime than a high school graduate and that college graduate unemployment rates are significantly lower than those without college degrees.

But look here. Look at the so-called horror stories, on the far right side of this graph. Out of nearly 7,600 graduates, a grand total of 298, had debt that exceeded $50,000. And just 20 out of 7,600 had debt in excess of $100,000 … and how they got there, I have no idea.
But let’s analyze this in a different way. Because when the critics talk about so-called “average debt,” they mean the average debt of THOSE WITH DEBT. Remember, 43 percent of our Twin Cities students graduate with zero debt from us. That’s reflected in the tall bar in graph on your left. That $26,000 figure I cited plays into this perverse definition of what’s average.
Because when you look at ALL OF OUR STUDENTS and average all the debt across our 7,600 students, the real average debt is more like $15,000 and the median at just about $9,000.
IN OTHER WORDS, 50% of our students graduate with less than $9,000 in debt.  That’s a different story than you usually hear.

Debt aside, with federal, state and University grants, we have created a financial aid system that means that almost all students who come from families with gross annual income of $50,000 or less will attend the University of Minnesota tuition free. That is another mechanism to allow qualified low-income, first generation and students of color to become our students.

By the way, we’ve actually seen a decline in the amount of debt that students and their families incur, with debt coming down more than $1,000 on average for all of our students, residents and non-residents over the past four years. So in-state tuition is under control and debt is down. Let me tell you about many things at our University that are up.

[SLIDE 10]
Let’s start with philanthropy. And I thank any of you who have generously given. I have travelled from Florida to Arizona to Philadelphia to San Francisco, from Seattle to New York to Hong Kong to Shanghai, meeting with friends and alums to generate the sort of support we need for our students and our faculty. We are in the midst of a $4 billion campaign to keep this University strong. The campaign is called Driven and it is chaired by our good friends John and Nancy Lindahl. And since 2015, we’ve raised $1 billion, with our Fiscal Year 2015 a record $351 million and the past two years the best two after that in University history. 

In total, we have raised about $2.8 BILLION towards our $4 Billion goal. Not a bad start. We’ve gotten those gifts on average from about 70,000 different donors a year, a real mark of affection for our University. The priorities of our philanthropic campaign mirror the priorities of the Grand Challenges strategic plan that we developed on our Twin Cities campus four years ago and that is now being implemented with real passion and energy. Of course, we are the state’s only comprehensive research university and, as I said, we conduct about $900 million worth of inquiry and discovery. 

[SLIDE 11]
As part of our Grand Challenges approach, which is a carefully thought out and wide ranging strategic PLAN, we identified five critical local and global challenges. These range from feeding a hungry world to assuring clean water, to advancing health through tailored solutions, to fostering just and equitable communities. The breadth and depth of our institution — from the Carlson School to our School of Public Health, from the Medical School to the College of Liberal Arts — allows for this interdisciplinary work. And for you in this audience, you should know that all of the Grand Challenges research that we’re supporting requires external partners, including in the private sector. Just two weeks ago, our Provost’s office organized an event that attracted 300 faculty and community partners to inspire new Grand Challenges research ideas.

Leaders from Ecolab, the McKnight Foundation and the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank were among the participants. This sort of entrepreneurial spirit is something I’ve encouraged since I’ve been here, loosening up our ability to share intellectual property while encouraging real partnerships in the business community. 

[SLIDE 12]
That’s why since 2011, we’ve seen the U’s research spin off 101 new startups, with a record 18 last year. Four of them were named the nation’s best university startups over the past two years.
[SLIDE 13]
The fact is, amid federal cutbacks, we’ve seen an increase in research spending, as we’ve invested some of our own resources to help our extraordinary faculty and researchers. Behind all these numbers — indeed, BECAUSE of all these numbers — there are real human stories. We don’t do research, we don’t hold down tuition, we don’t seek help from generous donors to improve our rankings.

[SLIDE 14]
We do it to improve the lives of Minnesotans, people like  Robby Grendahl from Wadena, Minnesota. Thirty-two years ago, in 1986, Robby was 15 years old and playing hockey when he suddenly couldn’t catch his breath. He became light-headed and he and his parents would soon learn that he was in full-blown heart failure, his heart so enlarged it could not be fixed.

[SLIDE 15]
He was rushed to our University of Minnesota Hospital and became our youngest patient ever to receive a heart transplant at our hospital, the same place, of course, where Dr. Christian Barnard, the heart transplant pioneer, trained under the great Owen Wangensteen.
[SLIDE 16]

Well, recently, Robby Grendahl, now 47 years old, spoke to physicians and nurses on our campus as we celebrated 40 years of heart transplants here at the U.                 
He’s the longest surviving male heart transplant patient in the nation … the nation.

[SLIDE 17]

Because of that transplant, he was able to marry his high school sweetheart. 
He’s got two kids. And he takes just two pills a day . . . a lot fewer than most of us!
And he’s never had an issue with his heart in 32 years because of the work of our physicians and nurses at the University. That’s what we do, too.

We save lives, we treat, we cure. And we want to do even better. In fact, we’re close to making some exciting announcements about the future of our clinical medicine enterprise shortly, news that will nail down another goal of mine.

[SLIDE 18]

This University, with its five strong and distinct campuses, is in wonderful shape. But, of course, our excellence doesn’t mean we’re exempt from challenges or the nation’s political climate and tensions. 

One is free speech and the belief by some that we lean hard to the left, and that there’s no room for differences of opinion on our campuses.

As you all know, we live in a time of deep division in our nation, our state and on our campuses. We at the University live and work in an institution where opposing points of views, skepticism, and disagreements are part of the educational experience. We have to grapple with and find ways to manage those differences of opinion among a remarkably diverse spectrum of people and cultures. 

I have spoken constantly about how we must dedicate ourselves to promoting free speech while still fostering a campus climate that supports equity, diversity and inclusion. A few months back, Ben Shapiro, a controversial and conservative political commentator and writer, spoke on our campus.What people say on our campus and what people want to hear on our campus is not up to me. Our registered student groups — which run the political and cultural gamut — can invite speakers of their choice, as is our policy. While some disagreed with the speaker’s message, he was able to deliver his point of view in a safe environment. Others, with very different points of view, organized their own forum that day and it, too, was conducted in a safe setting. I’m committed to a campus where all views are allowed, but, frankly, in our divisive national environment, civility is not the trend.

Another challenge on our campuses — and from Hollywood to Congress — is sexual misconduct. In a survey three years ago, nearly one in four of our female students said they’d been victims of sexual assault. And some men are sexually assaulted and harassed, too. So, I launched the President’s Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct last year and charged the Dean of our School of Public Health, John Finnegan, to lead the effort to combat this public health crisis.

I believe we’re a leader now in higher education on this crisis. I’ve invested nearly $600,000 in this initiative that includes required training for ALL employees. Our faculty have backed this as have our student government leaders. All students, not just incoming freshmen, will get training every year. We’re going to have a very active public awareness campaign. And we’re training employees and students on bystander intervention … That is, if you see something, say something. I’m proud of how we’re moving on this.

Another challenge we are struggling with is recruiting and retaining faculty and senior leaders of color. We need to do better, we also need to continue to work closely with other educational and community groups to close Minnesota’s unconscionable opportunity and achievement gap, a gap that affects us and all institutions of higher education and the state’s talent force.

[SLIDE 19]

In closing, for today and with you, I prefer to celebrate how strong this University is.I prefer to celebrate how successful our almost 600,000 living alumni from our five campuses are. I prefer to celebrate the $8.7 billion annual economic impact we have on our state, returning nearly $14 in economic impact for every $1 the state invests.I prefer to celebrate our contributions to the state’s health care workforce and our contributions as the state’s fifth largest employer.

[SLIDE 20]
With that in mind, one of the grand old urban myths of our time – right up there with crushing student debt - is how bloated and inefficient higher education is today. Take a look at this slide.  Over the past 15 years, our headcount has grown by about 6%.  But look at what that has done – giving more than doubled, research way up – which takes people to do, by the way – total degrees up by over a third and students enrolled up.

If you think productivity is important, then remember this slide.

To finish, let me celebrate some of our most high-profile news in recent weeks.

                                                  [SLIDE 21]

Like it or not, Athletics is the front porch to the U for many people.  Many of you helped tremendously in the funding of our new Land O Lakes Athletes Village on the Twin Cities campus.  Many if its spaces are named for some of you in this room – thank you John and Nancy – and this will enable our teams to train and study in first class spaces.  If Gopher football can’t win with PJ Fleck and this space, there really is a curse.

[SLIDE 22]

And we celebrated the new NCAA men’s hockey champions from UMD  . . .

[SLIDE 23]

And the exciting return to Williams Arena of Lindsay Whalen.

Yes, it’s been seven good years since I last had this 1st Tuesday opportunity.But just as I was then, I’m inspired everyday to promote this jewel, this force — this brand — we know and love as the University of Minnesota. Thank you.

[SLIDE 24]

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