UC's president reports to the Fall 2019 All-University Faculty Meeting with an update on the university.

President's speech focuses on growing quality, access

University of Cincinnati President Neville G. Pinto gives an update on the university and its Next Lives Here vision.


Good afternoon! My thanks to Chair Cynthia Ris for her leadership of the faculty, and for providing me the opportunity to speak today.

I would like the chairman of our Board of Trustees, Wym Portman, to please stand for recognition and our appreciation.

A few months ago I rediscovered a quote from President John F. Kennedy that I would like to share with you. 

On February 20, 1961, in a speech to congress, President Kennedy said: “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.”

I hope President Kennedy’s statement reaffirms the vital importance of the work each of you do every day as educators.

The centrality of higher education to our overall well-being as a nation has been recognized through much of our history.  It has fueled our national intellect, ensuring the advancement of our society. 

As we look to the future, there is no doubt that President Kennedy’s words resonate with enormous relevance. 

Knowledge – its transmission and assimilation, as well as its creation, is the currency for success today and into the future. And universities, particularly – Carnegie Research I universities like ours – are the central banks and mint for this currency. 

For this reason, the fulfillment of our university’s mission has never been more important. And I am pleased to report, that you our faculty, along with our staff, are discharging the mission of this public institution with remarkable success. 

Indicators of success

A key indicator of a university’s success lies in the answer to the question: Do people want to be educated at the institution? 

For UC the answer is clearly yes.

This fall we marked another record in our enrollment – now 46,388 students – the seventh consecutive year of record enrollment. This, at a time when many universities are experiencing declines.

So why are students selecting to attend UC? It is for the quality of our programs, the students’ overall campus experience, and the demonstrated success of our graduates.

These outcomes are clearly linked to the quality and impact of our outstanding faculty. My thanks to our faculty, and our staff, for ensuring that UC is a vibrant place for learning, a place where students want to be educated.

Addressing educational attainment challenge

As you well know, the full and responsible discharge of our public education mission requires that we deliver on two essential components: quality and access. 

We must strive for programs of the highest quality, and ensure that these underpin an increase in the educational attainment of our citizens. 

Across the nation, nearly 67% of adults have not achieved a baccalaureate or higher level of education. In Ohio, the numbers are worse – more than 70 percent of adults lack a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

Our nation and our state will not be competitive in a knowledge economy at current levels of educational attainment. 

Public higher education must respond to this challenge by ensuring:

  • A much higher level of degree completion for those who matriculate;
  • We must widen our doors by reaching deep into those segments of our society that have been historically underserved by higher education; and
  • We must recruit adult learners and engage them throughout their professional lives, so that they can remain proficient and competitive as the complexity of their work environment intensifies with new knowledge – we must lead in building an essential university role and structure for life-long learning.    

Clearly, with our robust growth in enrollment over the last decade (from 39,667 in 2009 to 46,388 today), we are responding to the challenge to raise the number of university graduates.

And because we have been creative and persistent over 15 years with the important work of improving baccalaureate student completion, our progress in baccalaureate graduation has been remarkable.

Progress made

From a 6-year completion rate of 55.7% – when we first started work on this issue – in 2018-19, we achieved our highest 6-year completion at 71.6%. It is the first time in our history that we have crossed 70%. My congratulations to all of you on this accomplishment.

But has our growth and success in student completion been inclusive of traditionally underrepresented groups? 

Let me share some numbers with you: 

  • Our total underrepresented minority (URM - undergraduate) enrollment has changed from 16.6% in 2009 to 17.2% in 2019. 
  • The 6-year completion rate for underrepresented minority undersgraduates for last year was: 61.3% (for the cohort entering in 2013) in comparison to 36.4% in 2009 (for the cohort entering in 2004).

Clearly, there has been progress on completion, but the gap is still large. And the year-to-year changes on enrollment are small. The opportunity to do better is enormous.

If we are successful in eliminating the gap that now exists with URMs, I believe we will gain a strong strategic advantage: We will have access to an excellent and large talent pool that has been largely untapped.


The primary hindrance to access and success for traditionally underserved student populations is a lack of adequate financial resources. Thus, our ability to provide broader access pivots critically on our capacity to:

  • contain the cost of education; and 
  • provide adequate scholarship funds to financially needy students.

We have strived long and hard to contain tuition costs. Tuition for this academic year for our returning undergraduate students remained flat for the fifth consecutive year. 

This means that undergraduate students who graduated in the last two academic years, 2017-18 and 2018-19, if they graduated on time, did not see a tuition increase over the 4 or 5 years they were here. The same will be true for the 2019-20 graduating class.  

We have continued the commitment to contain the cost of education by instituting a Tuition Guarantee for the Fall 2019 first-year undergraduate cohort – assuring these students a stable tuition for the length of their degree program, as long as they finish on time.

Certainly, holding tuition constant has not been easy to accomplish, but it is essential for us to do as a public institution – to create opportunities so that more of our citizens will be educated at the post-secondary level.

Scholarship need

The other leg of our financial strategy to improve access is growth of our scholarship pool. We pursued this aggressively in Fiscal Year 2018-19.  Our total scholarship and support expenditure was close to $173 Million, an increase of $7.4 Million, or a 4.5% increase, over the previous year.

Also, with a specific focus on underrepresented minorities, we have increased, over a period of 4 years, the permanent allocation to the Turner Scholars fund by $500,000 per year.  

We will continue, with vigor, to grow our scholarship pool.  For our Comprehensive Campaign, which will launch on November 8th, the growth of scholarships has been set as a major priority.  

On February 20th, 2018, we launched Next Lives Here, our strategic direction, to position our university to fulfill our vision of leading urban public universities into a new era of innovation and impact.

Next Lives Here: Academic Excellence

During my Spring 2019 State-of-the-University Address, I reported on the good progress that had been made in the first year of implementation of Next Lives Here. 

Since then, the momentum has built rapidly. Let me give you a few, notable examples: 

Within the Academic Excellence platform: 

Our major initiative in student success – Bearcat Promise – has launched with the incoming class of 2019-20. 

Our goal is to provide an education and learning experience that distinguishes our graduates in their capacity to live and lead in our rapidly changing world. 

We believe that this focus will dramatically enhance student engagement and consequently manifest as much higher graduation rates. 

Our goal is to raise the 6-year graduation rate to above 80%, with no gap for underrepresented minority groups. 

When we accomplish this, we will be counted among the best public universities in the country on this measure.

Also as part of the Academic Excellence Platform, our Faculty Enrichment Center opened earlier this semester with the leadership and focus to drive excellence in teaching, innovation in pedagogy, and a new level of academic and research collaboration across disciplines.

I am optimistic that the investment in this facility will usher in a new era of faculty ownership and aspiration to lead as an urban public research university.

I would like to take a moment to ask Provost Kristi Nelson to stand and be acknowledged for the excellent work she and her team did to successfully launch both Bearcat Promise and the Faculty Enrichment Center. 

Also in full support of Academic Excellence, we opened two new buildings – the new Health Sciences Building for the College of Allied Health Sciences – and – a new building for the Carl H. Lindner College of Business. These beautiful structures provide state-of-the art facilities that will lead to higher levels of academic accomplishment and help with the attraction and retention of outstanding talent.

I would like to take a moment to ask our Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Robert Ambach to stand and be acknowledged for the excellent work he and his team have done in the planning, design and construction of these two new buildings as well as the Faculty Enrichment Center.  

Next Lives Here: Urban Impact

Now moving to the Urban Impact Platform. 

In April of this year we announced our commitment to a new interdisciplinary applied research facility, called the Digital Futures building. The goal is to leverage our talent and our basic research capabilities to be a leading university in creating society’s digitally-framed future.  

Located across from the 1819 Innovation Hub, the new 180,000-square-foot building will anchor a research commons that builds partnerships with government and non-government agencies, industry and the community.

Our Office of Research under the leadership of Vice President Patrick Limbach has used a creative “pitch competition” method to identify 15 interdisciplinary teams that will vie for space in the building.

The areas in which these teams plan to build nationally recognized programs are: Safety and Security; Mobility & Exploration; Future Health; and Resilience & Recovery. 

Vice President Limbach is also leading a wider planning effort called UCResearch2030 - a blueprint to raise our research profile, with the goal of enhancing our external research funding by $100 million per year to a total above $525 million per year.

The plan will be rolled out formally in Spring 2020, with the goal that we firmly establish ourselves as a Top 25 public research university.

Next Lives Here: Innovation Agenda

The third Next Lives Here platform is: the Innovation Agenda. You may recall that in October of last year we opened the 1819 Hub. Its goal is to grow all aspects of talent - talent development, talent attraction, and talent expression – in an era of innovation

Two major objectives were pursued to accomplish this goal:

  • Recruitment of businesses and organizations that would partner with us to provide the experiential component for teaching innovation; and 
  • A structure and culture that encouraged faculty to translate new knowledge and ideas quickly to commercial or societal value.

In one short year, the results have been nothing short of superb. As of today, the following companies have established innovation centers within the 1819 Hub: Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Cincinnati Insurance Companies, Cincinnati Bell, Worldpay, and Kingsgate Logistics. 

Most recently Fifth Third Bank has announced that it, too, will open an innovation center in the building. 

In addition, the Live Well Collaborative and Village Life, a social innovation organization, are located in the 1819 Hub.

Also, housed in the building, and under the leadership of Dr. Jason Heikenfeld, is UC’s Accelerator.

To enhance synergy, Cincy Tech, a regional venture development organization and seed investor, has also co-located at 1819.

In this new environment, the Accelerator’s success in 2018-19 has been remarkable. The number of start-up companies from UC has jumped from 7 over the past four years to 6 in a single year. 

The 1819 Hub is now close to full occupancy. It’s attracting a great deal of attention locally and nationally. In its first year, it had over 50,000 visitors.

It is thus no surprise that UC made Reuter’s list of the 100 World’s Most Innovative Universities this year.

I will call on our Chief Innovation Officer, David Adams, to stand and be acknowledged for his leadership and his team’s hard work to successfully launch the 1819 Innovation Hub.

Additional topics

I would now like to spend a few moments on additional topics that deserve special mention:

  • Student Health and Wellness – I have empaneled a group of our mental health experts under the leadership of Vice President for Student Affairs Deborah Merchant and Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Development Keisha Love to lead a “Next Sprint” on Mental Health and Wellness. It will engage students to quickly and creatively identify the best ways in which the university can respond to the needs of students on this important subject.

  • Academic Health Center – We are moving with urgency to provide long-term leadership to the College of Medicine and Academic Health Center. The opportunity to partner with UC Health to advance our academic and clinical missions is enormous, with positive implications for our entire university.  With a strong, committed leader in place, I expect that we will realize this potential. 

  • Part-Time Faculty – Our part-time faculty are valuable contributors toward the university’s educational mission. I am glad to know that the Faculty Senate has taken leadership in assessing the environment for our part-time faculty, and will make recommendations to the Provost following this assessment. It is vitally important that all faculty, including part-time faculty, have ownership of their roles at the university. We will work to ensure that this happens.

As I look forward to the rest of this year, I am very optimistic about our trajectory.

Next Lives Here has provided the framework for alignment and focus across our campus. We will continue to aggressively implement the various pathways within the direction.

Connecting to our vision, planning

To build the resource base for maximum impact through Next Lives Here, the Provost is leading our strategic sizing initiative. The overarching goal of this initiative is to establish a growth mindset in everything we do: 

  • Growth in program quality and program access;
  • Growth in knowledge creation and creative works; 
  • And growth in urban impact – in education, health and the economy.

To do this effectively, it is vital to connect the thinking and aspirations of every academic department to our overall strategic sizing plan. 

To effect this, the Provost has held two historic Academic Leadership Conferences – one in March and one in September 2019. Every dean and department chair at the university was included. 

Each college has been charged to develop a charter upon which the university’s overall strategic sizing plan will be built.  The department chairs are working with the deans to draft these charters.

It is the university leadership’s desire that this process empower every faculty member at our university to engage in strategic sizing. 

I encourage every department to engage fully in the charter building process, and subsequently to devote time on a regular basis to strategically connect its actions to Next Lives Here. 

If we all do this, we will gain a common sense of purpose and alignment, which will result in unstoppable momentum on our road to excellence and distinction.

Thank you for your attention, and for all you do for the University of Cincinnati.

Featured image at top: President Pinto speaks at the Fall 2019 All-University Faculty Meeting. Photo by Lisa Ventre.

Knowledge – its transmission and assimilation, as well as its creation, is the currency for success today and into the future. And universities – particularly Carnegie Research I universities like ours – are the central banks and mint for this currency. For this reason, the fulfillment of our university’s mission has never been more important.

Neville G. Pinto President