The University of Montana brought in a record $87 million in research awards in the last school year, President Royce Engstrom said Friday in his annual State of the University address.

"Through research, we are supporting innovation and entrepreneurship with several centers for excellence in innovation," he said.

The president also noted other successes and a couple of challenges, including enrollment, in the address given to a nearly full house in the Montana Theatre on campus.

In a presentation that ran roughly an hour, the president highlighted faculty achievements, such as biology professor Doug Emlen's election to the national Academy of Arts and Sciences. Emlen is the first Montanan to hold the honor.

The president also outlined steps UM was taking to plan for the future, including work on a strategic vision and launching new majors and programs to "prepare people for specific professions and opportunities."

UM has suffered an ongoing enrollment decline, some 20 percent since 2010 on the main campus, and in his address, Engstrom reiterated his philosophy about recruiting students to the university: "Enrollment is everyone's job."

This summer, UM brought on a new vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, Tom Crady, who replaces a retiring vice president whose role did not include enrollment.

In a news conference after the address, Engstrom identified a couple of the goals he wants to see in boosting the number of university students in Missoula.

Currently, UM is "a few percentage points" away from enrolling 50 percent of high school graduates in Montana, he said. He said the goal is to be at 50 percent for students who choose to stay in the state.

An estimated 25 percent of UM students come from out of state, and Engstrom would like the non-resident student population to hit the 30 percent to 35 percent range, "a pretty significant increase over where we are now."

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The president highlighted academic achievements by both faculty and students in his remarks, as well as other financial successes.

He said a new report from Academic Analytics ranks UM's wildlife biology program as the top in the U.S. and Canada based on faculty productivity, publications, citations, research grants, and other awards. Academic Analytics analyzes data in higher education so schools can measure performance.

"Those same faculty members are outstanding teachers, and what an opportunity for our students to be taught by the best in the nation," Engstrom said in prepared remarks.

Students are hitting high marks themselves, he said. Six recent graduates were selected as Fulbright finalists, and UM graduate Joanna Kreitinger, who works in professor David Shephard's lab, was one of just 40 people chosen for "a prestigious Immunology Fellowship, the first Montanan to be chosen for this award."

He also touted the recent perfect score the athletic training program received from the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education. Engstrom said he has been involved in many accreditations, and he has never before seen a perfect score.

"Our athletic training program was among the first to be created in the nation, and they continue to lead as one of our fastest growing graduate programs," he said.

New programs were among the highlights the president shared, and he said he appreciated "nimble" faculty working to bring them on board.

As examples, a new neuroscience major has attracted more than 30 majors, and a "brand new masters of science in business analytics" is launching this fall, the president said.

"The campus signaled loudly last year that the liberal arts and sciences must remain in our hearts and souls as educators and I couldn't agree more," Engstrom said.

"But we must also remember that our mission is a broad one, and we must prepare people for the specific professions and opportunities upon which our society thrives."

He reiterated the areas he identified for growth last fall, including health professions, business and entrepreneurship, data and information, the environment, and "specific workforce needs."

Last year, UM cut an estimated $12 million from its budget because of its enrollment decline.

In the news conference, Engstrom said he believes the budget "adjustments" UM made will prepare the university for this school year unless the campus gets hit with an unexpected "several percentage change" in enrollment. He did not release projections.

"I don't think we'll have to do much with the budget again this year," he said.

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The president also discussed challenges at UM as well as a plan for moving forward.

In this day and age, he said, students are customers, and UM must support them in answering their questions and making them feel welcome.

"We are committed to improving our customer service," Engstrom said. "I will be honest with you, we have considerable work to do in this area."

To keep the issue top of mind, he said UM will start a monthly customer service award: "Customer service is everyone's job."

He also said UM has embarked on updating its strategic plan from 2011. Under the old plan, UM implemented its "Global Leadership Initiative," a wait-listed program that aims to steep students in issues relevant around the world, such as population and environmental challenges, and it has been driving research and "pushing fundraising to new heights."

However, he said the time has come to revisit the plan's goals since five years have passed.

"The landscape has changed and many new people are part of our university, bringing with them new strengths and experiences," Engstrom said. "As such, our goals and strategies must be revised."

He said a series of forums starting in the fall will give people a chance to give their input into the plan.

"The next five years will be exciting, and they will require hard work and creative thinking on our part," Engstrom said in his conclusion. "I believe that the University of Montana can be among the most effective institutions in that exciting world."

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Higher Education Reporter

Reporter for the Missoulian