By Joe Shearer, Reporter
Another year has passed, and in theme with the last few years, University of Nebraska at Omaha Chancellor John Christensen returned to the podium with good news at the annual State of the University Address Oct. 9.
Christensen delivered the annual report to a couple hundred students, faculty, alumni and various city and university dignitaries in the Strauss Performing Arts Center Recital Hall. Before he got into the stats and numbers, he couldn’t help but express his pleasure with UNO’s state, specifically the increase in enrollment.
“I must tell you, I like what I see,” Christensen said.
The address started off with the recognition of a milestone. The UNO Alumni Association celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. In honor of the occasion, they commissioned Washington-based artist Jocelyn Russell to craft an 8-foot-tall, 1500-pound bronze statue, to be called the “Maverick Monument.” Set to be located outside of the Sapp Fieldhouse, the work will anchor the center of the Dodge Street Campus, where UNO’s history began.
In addition to that anniversary, the university itself reached year 105 just recently on Oct. 8.
Then it was on to the good, “no, the great” news.
One of the biggest stories of the year was UNO’s record-enrollment numbers, as the university reached some historic figures. Total enrollment jumped 7 percent over the summer and 3 percent this fall, with the fall figures bringing UNO’s largest-ever first-year class. The University also saw key increases across several enrollment demographics this academic year. The number of minority students jumped 16.1 percent; graduate students increased 9.1 percent with 2,892 enrolled; international student numbers raised 4.3 percent to make 732 enrollees; and a 4.1-percent increase in non-resdent students brings the total to 1,928.
UNO is currently hosting students from 121 countries, showing UNO’s “welcoming culture for all learners.”
Other non-traditional student populations can find top-flight experiences through UNO. Military Times consecutively ranks UNO in their top-10 military-friendly rankings, and this year it was placed at number six. As for online learners, UNO’s Bachelor of General Studies online degree was ranked number 11 by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best online programs in the nation.
“From Oman to Omaha; from high school dual-enrollment to doctoral studies; from on-campus to online,” Christensen said. “A wide range of rich experiences are possible when the world comes to study at UNO.”
To accommodate the diverse and constantly-growing student body, UNO has made many aggressive transformations over the years.
The most-recent addition to campus is the Biomechanics Research Building, which offers first-class studies in human movement. Future campus additions are the Community Engagement Center, which will host several organizations and provide space for current and future university-community partnerships, and the UNO Arena, where some of the school’s student-athletes will be able to compete in Division I in a place to call their own with a big-venue feel.
It takes big money to make these changes happen, and by next year, Christensen says he anticipates private contributions hitting the $225 million mark.
And with that physical progress, growth, improvement and opportunities inside campus and around the city continue as well.
Omaha is home to five Fortune 500 companies and there are several sectors to find opportunities in. The Daily Beast ranks Omaha as the second-best city in the country for recent graduates.
Christensen said that, from recent surveys, 80 percent of graduates had internships or job-like experiences during their undergraduate careers and around 95 percent of them are now working or continuing their education.
Aside from work, Omaha also offers a number of premier events and entertainment year-round, making the city more-attractive to current and possible students. The College World Series, the shopping and dining districts, the concert/sporting venues: they’re all factors that give Omaha the big-city feel that many students want to get a taste of.
And at the end of the day, the price to have access to all of that is low and competitive to the regional universities like it.
Out of the 10 four-year academic institutions on Eastern Nebraska, UNO’s tuition and fees are the lowest; and to better serve neighboring Iowans, the Metropolitan Advantage Program offers reduced tuition pricing. Christensen added survey data that said 60 percent of recent alumni reported leaving UNO with no, or less than $5000 in, debt.
Christensen said that the cost to attend UNO is well worth the opportunities to be gained. He quoted Warren Buffet by saying “price is what you pay, value is what you get.”
It has taken decades of planning and executing to get to UNO’s current state. Christensen offered a succinct summation of what it takes to become a “premier metropolitan university.”
“Our equation for distinction is really quite simple,” Christensen said. “Hire extraordinary faculty and staff; offer a broad range of relevant and unique programs; enroll dedicated and passionate undergraduate and graduate students; build state-of-the-art learning, teaching and living spaces; offer the most competitively priced tuition in the region; infuse engagement, creativity, diversity and community into the culture; leverage the opportunities of a great city; and build a network of over 40,000 alumni in the region.”
It’s something easier said than done, but Christensen and the countless others that make the gears turn at UNO have put in the hard work to ensure their goals are met and the student population is served.
“Okay, so it’s not that simple,” he joked. “Yet, it is the Maverick way.”
Copies of The UNO Advantage are still available and can be picked up at the University Communications office, located in room 113 in the Eppley Administration Building on the Dodge Street Campus, during regular office hours. A full transcript of the address and digital copy of The UNO Advantage can be found at http://www.unomaha.edu/news/releases/2013/10.