Columbus Metropolitan Club Forum

Delivered on September 28, 2016, to the Columbus Metropolitan Club.

Good afternoon. Thank you, Steve. And thank you to the sponsors of today’s forum, U.S. Bank and State Auto Insurance Companies.

It’s wonderful to be back at this community forum as you celebrate the 40th year of convening these important conversations. I’m honored and proud to be the first speaker of the inaugural “Joe and Carol Newcomb Alutto Legacy Forum.”

This forum reminds us of the importance of convening meaningful, thoughtful discussion — for the benefit of all.

And that really is what our university does.

We convene individuals, organizations, experts — bringing together broad passions and intellectual power to find solutions to important and challenging issues. Our partnership with the City of Columbus is among our most important. Working together, we enhance the lives of countless individuals in central Ohio and beyond.

As many of you know, a collaboration between the city, the university and industry partners helped Columbus win out over 77 other cities to be named the nation’s Smart City by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Ohio State is the primary research partner on the project to transform central Ohio into the national leader in innovative, safe and reliable transportation. This is a success for everyone in central Ohio and is reflective of the vital partnership between the city, business community and the state’s flagship university. 

There are many things that attracted Brenda and me to Columbus and to The Ohio State University: the academic opportunity, the quality of the people and the spirit of this city and our university. But one of the biggest factors in our decision is that what happens at Ohio State matters. It matters to higher education, and it matters to the nation. 

We don’t travel anywhere in the country where people don’t know the university. Everyone we meet knows Ohio State. It is wonderful to be a part of a university that has that level of connectivity, outreach and impact. Smart City is just one example.

A few weeks ago, Prince Albert II of Monaco visited Ohio State to learn about our sustainability research and zero-waste program at Ohio Stadium. The prince is a world-renowned environmentalist — and when he wanted to learn more about leading approaches to these challenges, he turned to Ohio State. 

Our path forward as a university has significant implications on the future of our region, state and beyond.

So, what is that path forward?

Our aspiration is to significantly strengthen our position as a nationally competitive flagship institution.

Why? Why is this important for you, or me or any of us, why is it important for the people of Ohio? Why is it worth our attention and our effort to work to strengthen our position as a nationally competitive flagship institution?

My favorite answer to this is a quote from 20th century educational icon Clark Kerr who said famously, “New knowledge … makes the world go ‘round, and the university is still its main source.”

If we think of places around the world, and particularly in this country, the most successful, innovative, entrepreneurial, healthy regions center around our great universities.

In ancient times, great cities grew up near shipping lanes or the confluence of rivers; in medieval Europe, around cathedrals; in the 19th and early 20th century, around factories — but in our modern era, great cities grow around universities. Columbus is a great city, and we want it to be even better. And the ideas, people, innovations and spirit attracted here by our university illuminate an important way forward for us all.

How we do that — how we engineer the next big leap in Ohio State’s almost 150 years of growth and excellence — is something that matters deeply to the broader community.

It matters to employers who hire our graduates because they are ready to make an immediate impact in the workforce and in their communities. 

It matters to businesses, government and organizations that rely on our research to grow the economy and better society. 

It matters to individuals and families who depend on the Wexner Medical Center to be an exemplar in medical care, scientific breakthroughs and patient safety. 

Brenda and I saw this immediately, and we continue to see it every day: Ohio State changes countless lives in extraordinary ways.

But our excellence requires investment. 

If we are in a position to do something and we don’t — or we can’t — progress doesn’t happen. And if progress is the next medical breakthrough or agricultural innovation, and we aren’t prepared to move forward, somebody else will, or worse, nobody else will, and our problems and issues will persist rather than being relegated to history. 

So we have arrived at an important moment — a tipping point between A and A+. And it’s our obligation to be the very best we can be.

To strengthen our position as a nationally competitive flagship institution, we need our most important partners to share our vision that an outstanding research university uplifts the communities it serves.

We need our university leaders to continue to maximize efficiencies and creative resource-generation to invest in our excellence. 

We need our philanthropic community to know how very crucial their giving is to improving lives. 

And we need our legislative partners to view our collective mission as critical to the health and well-being of the state.

The great news is that Ohio State is already well-positioned for advancement on the national stage.

As president of Ohio State, I hold leadership positions in national higher education organizations ­— such as the Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the NCAA, the University Innovation Alliance and more.

This gives our university a unique opportunity to help set the course for solving the most important higher education issues of the day. We have the opportunity to be — to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda — “in the room where it happens.”

We’re working on these issues with our national peers — and we also work hard on our campuses to push forward our vision for the future: that our university is affordable, provides broad access and is evermore excellent.

By 2020, the university has pledged to identify $200 million in efficiency savings and another $200 million in innovative funding to lower the cost and improve the value of an Ohio State education. Of that $400 million, $100 million will go directly to affordability grants for low- and middle-income students in Ohio.

Last year, we began this work and allocated $15 million in new affordability grants to 12,000 students. This year, we provided grants to 15,700 students — including, for the first time, 3,000 Buckeyes on our regional campuses around the state.

This is great, but we know there is more work to be done. 

There is a great opportunity — and obligation — for higher education to do a better job of creating a pathway for brilliant students from the lower half of the income distribution to be educated at our most competitive and successful colleges. Intelligence is not reserved for those from the upper half of the income distribution — and yet statistically there are many more opportunities at highly successful universities for those young people.

The future of our communities and our country depends on our ability to provide significantly greater access to an excellent education to young Americans across zip codes and income brackets. 

Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate the conclusion of our But for Ohio State Campaign which — due to the generosity of our alumni and countless friends — is already the largest in our university’s history. That support enabled us to increase student scholarships while driving excellence in faculty research and the academic enterprise.

We were very pleased that our legislative partners invested in the importance of education in the biennial budget, with the largest increase in State Share of Instruction (SSI) in a decade, along with additional funding for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant program. This enabled us to enact a comprehensive cost freeze in 2015-16 for Ohio undergraduates on our Columbus campus — the first of its kind in at least four decades — while we continued to invest in excellence. And this year, we did it again. 

This is great, but tuition is only one variable in the affordability equation. It often gets the most attention because it’s the most visible and easiest to understand. 

Another significant way to make college more affordable while improving the overall student experience is to make a student’s path to graduation as efficient and effective as possible. We are doing several things, today, to help improve the quality and value of our student experience.

On August 1, we implemented a predictive analytics advising tool on our Newark campus. The new tool will collect real data on student performance — what is working and what is not — so advisers will know with more precision when and how to provide support. By December, we anticipate that all of our academic advisors will use this data-driven system.

Just a few weeks ago, we launched a new teaching and learning institute … very excited about this … to advance academic excellence for our students while increasing support for faculty. We expect the institute to help create national best practices in the classroom. 

We held campuswide forums on affordability and expanded our nation-leading programs on student financial literacy. Efforts are underway to provide greater access to general education and distance-learning courses. And our student leaders are interested in looking at ways to cut textbook costs. 

Last fall, we were recognized as a national model by Vice President Biden for our students’ commitment to preventing sexual violence on campus — a commitment we made campuswide with Buckeyes ACT, a comprehensive program focused on Action, Counseling and Training.

And this fall, we unveiled our “one day, one week” plan for psychological support and counseling. It states, simply, that if a student calls our support hotline, someone answers immediately. If it’s an emergency, the student is seen immediately; if it’s not an emergency, an appointment is scheduled within a week. We believe that “one day, one week” is among the most responsive programs of its kind in the nation, and a real step forward for an institution of our size and complexity. 

These efforts focusing on quality, affordability and the overall student experience have led to record demand for an Ohio State education — as well as the most talented and diverse class of incoming students in university history. This fall, we had almost 50,000 applicants, up from 46,000 in 2015, and a 69 percent increase from 29,000 five years ago.

Our newest first-year Buckeyes have a record-high ACT average of 29.1, and 95 percent are from the top quarter of their high school class.

Our first-year students come from all 88 Ohio counties, 45 states and 18 countries. The number of minority students increased by a record-high 11 percent over last year, and about 1 in 5 of our new students are first-generation college students.

We’re ranked among the top five in the nation for improving graduation rates overall as well as for underrepresented students.

As our students arrive on campus better prepared than they have ever been before, we must continue to set the pace for excellence in a competitive global society. 

And in addition to these and other programs aimed mainly at undergraduates and the undergraduate student experience, we are supporting our incredible faculty in their outstanding scholarship and groundbreaking research. We were pleased to see an 8 percent increase in NIH funding last year alone.

And we’re putting our new knowledge to work. We’re investing in solutions to food insecurity across all disciplinary fronts to address hunger in our own communities and beyond — including programs in Ohio and a new food pantry for food-insecure students on our campus. 

We’re making incredible advancements in medicine. We opened our Brain and Spine Hospital and the Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute just this month. Our partnership with Battelle developed Neurobridge technology that, for the first time in medical history, enabled a paralyzed man to regain movement using his thoughts. 

Few institutions do so many of these things — or are able to do them so well. 

When Ohio State is at its best, it is meaningful to everyone. And as we strengthen our position as a nationally competitive flagship university, our impact more closely approaches its full potential.

Our time is now. We look forward to working with our partners in the city, state — and everywhere that Buckeyes are — to make a profound impact on our world, and change lives for the better.

Thank you.


View the archive of President Drake’s speeches and statements.