Pershing’s speech to Legislature aims high

President David Pershing spoke to the Higher Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill on Wendesday to emphasize the U’s commitment to Utah students and reinforce the U medical school’s request for $10 million, addressed in SB 42.

“I am convinced that one of the things we need to think about a bit more is students,” Pershing said. “Whether you’re a dancer, an English literature major or a chemist, we want you to have a great experience at the University of Utah.”

As the state’s largest university, the U provides the majority of bachelor’s degrees in addition to graduating the most master’s and doctorate students and providing medical degrees for the state.

According to Spencer Pratt, fiscal analyst, 29,371 students were enrolled at the U in 2012, and the school brought more than $400 million to the state in grants last year alone as the “flagship university of the state.”

Pershing told the committee the students of Utah are in good hands. He called the U a “fast-growing” institution and, despite high enrollment, hopes to make the experience personal and engaging for every student.

“Our vision at the U is to try to create a supportive environment for ‘creative doers,’ ” Pershing said. “We’re thinking a lot about the students that we want to attract and ultimately retain and graduate, because we want to make sure that the students at the U are going to succeed.”

Starting this year, the U is changing to a holistic admissions process, looking beyond GPA and ACT scores when admitting students. The U will start taking a closer look at classes prospective students took in high school.

“Rigorous high school courses are important, even if you don’t get all As,” Pershing said.

As part of Prosperity 2020, a movement to increase Utah residents with higher education degrees to 66 percent by 2020, the U is also looking to increase its graduation rate over the next six years. The U has the highest graduation rate of the state’s schools but doesn’t plan to rest on its laurels, according to Pershing. To do that, the U is focusing on short-term retention of students, hoping to increase involvement.

“One of my promises to the entering class of 2013 is we will offer every student at least one … engagement experience,” Pershing said.

He announced the U will break ground on a new student life center this spring that will hopefully encourage students to stay on campus and be involved. He believes if students invest more time on campus instead of constantly commuting they will be more likely to graduate.

This year’s budget appropriates $467.8 million to the U, and SB 42 proposes an additional $10 million for the medical school.

Pershing said without the appropriation, the U will be poorly equipped to educate Utah students seeking medical degrees. Currently, the medical school can only accept one out of every 20 applicants.

“We’re asking you to help with the $10 million appropriation … not for the good of the university … but for the good of the students and the state,” Pershing said.