2020 State of the University Address

The following is the full text of the 2020 State of the University Address, delivered during the University Senate meeting at the Ohio Union on Thursday, January 30, 2020.

Read Ohio State News coverage of the address here.

Good afternoon. It is a pleasure and privilege to be here with all of you.

Thank you to the University Senate for hosting this address. This body is vital to our governance structure and has been invaluable to me during my time as president.

Thank you. I’m particularly pleased to note that, since my last University Address, Ohio State staff members became voting members of University Senate for the first time. 

Our university was founded in 1870 as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College to bring higher education within the reach of all people — to promote, as the Morrill Act states, “the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.” Throughout time and change, our land-grant mission has remained clear and relevant. We are here to illuminate a pathway to learning and discovery that improves lives and uplifts society.

This year marks our 150th as a university community. Our sesquicentennial gives us the opportunity to celebrate what we have accomplished together — and all that is yet to come. I am proud to share that Ohio State has never been as impactful and well-positioned as it is today.

Our university has unprecedented and measurable momentum, with many of the most important indicators at levels higher than at any point in our long history. Applications, academic excellence, diversity, research funding, graduation rates, patient care, donor support — all these and more are the best we’ve seen and still accelerating. And when we look at these accomplishments, we are looking at the cumulative efforts and talents of everyone in this room and across the university.

As I travel throughout the state and beyond, I am gratified to see and hear how much we mean to so many people. I hear from farmers that they trust our data, from patients that they trust our hospitals, people in every walk of life know that we will give our best. For the past century and a half, we advanced the lives and potential of students, families and communities in our state and around the world. What could be a more worthwhile endeavor than that?

Five years ago, we set forth a plan to envision what Ohio State might look like in 2020, and how we could be an even more impactful university moving forward. In August 2017, we expanded the scope of our aspirations with a strategic plan that would help us take the next bold leap in our history — and strengthen Ohio State’s position as one of our nation’s leading research universities. This strategic vision focuses on five key pillars:

  • Access, affordability and excellence — and that is excellence in all that we do
  • Teaching and learning
  • Research and creative expression
  • Academic health care
  • Operational excellence and resource stewardship

We expected our strategic plan to bear fruit in about five to seven years. Together, we have exceeded our expectations in less than half that time.

That means many things for the students and communities we serve. One is that more of our students are graduating on time and with less debt. To pause for a second ... just that...more students graduating than ever before, in less time and with less debt than in the recent past ...that is our founding mission made manifest.

Another is that we’re doing more research than we’ve ever done before. We’re seeing more patients with better outcomes and higher satisfaction. And we’re playing a key role in stimulating Ohio’s innovation economy and helping to change lives for the better.

I am grateful to all of you for the hard work and commitment that have led to our collective progress as a university. It’s the work that you do that makes this possible. It makes a real difference, it really matters. Thank you.

As you know, I will be transitioning from my role as president at the end of the academic year.

This was a difficult decision for Brenda and me — but what better time to transition than at the completion of our university’s 150th and strongest year ever?

It was important to us that Ohio State be accelerating on a path forward — and well-positioned for continued success. And what are the markers of that success?

First and foremost, students and families continue to recognize the exceptional value of an Ohio State education. This fall, more than 55,000 students applied to our campuses around the state.

Our incoming class was the best prepared and most diverse in our history. In the fall, the average ACT score of our new class increased to 29.5, while minority student enrollment across all campuses increased by nearly 30% since 2015.

We have seen a 20% increase among new first-year Pell students and new first-generation students since 2015. We have more work to do — and will continue to focus our efforts on increasing access for students from all backgrounds.

Our graduation rates set new records and compare favorably with the best in the nation. Our six-year graduation rate is nearly 86% — an all-time high. Our four-year rate is 67%, up 8.5 percentage points since 2015. That’s an incredible jump and part of a larger effort to reduce time to graduation and lower the cost for students and families.

Overall, we awarded more than 17,500 degrees and certificates in the last academic year. It is the fifth consecutive year that we have had record-breaking graduating class sizes.

Our most recent graduates included 57 current and former student-athletes. Fourteen of our teams posted perfect Academic Progress Rate scores —while football, men’s tennis, women’s golf and women’s soccer received the NCAA’s Public Recognition Award (given to teams scoring in the top 10% based on retention and classroom success over multiple years). It is uplifting when our Buckeyes represent us so well on the court or field or in the classroom.

As our new graduates enter the workforce, we were pleased to see a recent survey that identified Columbus as No. 1 in the Midwest and No. 2 nationally for finding a job in 2020. And our Buckeye alumni are living and working in all 88 counties in Ohio, all 50 states and more than 150 countries around the globe.

The percentage of students graduating with debt, meanwhile, has declined to 50% from 55% five years ago. The average amount of debt for those students who graduate with it has dropped 3.3% over the past two years. Again, more work needs to be done, but we are making progress.

I am delighted to report that, by this summer, we will have committed $200 million in additional need-based aid for students and families — twice the goal of $100 million we set five years ago. This additional aid has taken the form of many first-time programs and initiatives for our university. For example, we established the Buckeye Opportunity Program to cover any gap in the full cost of base tuition and fees for Pell-eligible students from Ohio.

Our affordability grants are currently benefiting 15,000 low- and moderate-income students on all campuses. And, in its third year, our tuition guarantee program is providing certainty to all new Ohio freshmen and their parents by freezing rates of in-state tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board for four years.

We have demonstrated a commitment to teaching and learning in ways that distinguish us from other institutions of our size. The University Institute for Teaching and Learning is unique nationally for implementing a research-based survey instrument on effective teaching practices across the entire institution.

To date, three-fourths of our full-time faculty in colleges that serve undergraduates have completed the first component of the teaching program, the Teaching Practices Inventory. More than half of these full-time faculty have completed the second component, which includes the Teaching@OhioState online modules and reading list. Of faculty surveyed after completing the training, 93% planned to apply what they learned in their courses.

And once again, Ohio State has been recognized nationally for its undergraduate teaching, ranking No. 7 among public universities. Just this month, the university’s online bachelor’s programs were ranked No. 1 in the nation.

A highlight of our innovative approach to teaching and learning is the work being done through our Digital Flagship initiative.

More than 23,000 first-year students have received iPad technology toolkits as part of the largest learning-technology deployment in our history. We also launched the Mobile Design Lab, and the App Development and Coding Certification program began in May.

As you know, as a large and complex university, we are not immune from serious challenges that test us all. One area of particular focus for us has been mental health and wellness. As part of the Digital Flagship, our students and staff worked with Apple to develop a new app designed to assist Buckeyes in navigating mental health and wellness resources and support services. We were pleased to launch that app this week.

Last fall, we launched the Buckeye Peer Access Line for students. This peer-to-peer “warm” line was recommended by our 2018 mental health task force — and one of several efforts we have initiated based on that group’s work.

We created the university’s Office of Institutional Equity to focus on institutional prevention of and response to all forms of harassment, discrimination and sexual misconduct — and welcomed Katherine Lasher, a nationally recognized leader, to direct this effort.The safety and well-being of our students, staff and faculty will always be our top priority.

While we press ahead with our challenges as they occur, we are delighted to celebrate the many, many areas in which Buckeyes lead the world. We’re particularly proud when our students are recognized for excellence.

We named this year’s President’s Prize recipients, Simone Bacon and Jen Schlegel. Upon graduation, each will receive a living stipend and startup funding for their projects focused on early learning among disadvantaged populations and software development to help those with limited dexterity.

We were particularly delighted to learn that philosophy and political science major Henry Wu was named a 2020 Rhodes Scholar. This marks the eighth Rhodes Scholar in Ohio State history, third in the last five years (2016, 2019, 2020) — and two in a row!

Our faculty continue to be recognized for their contributions. Last year, nearly 160 awards and recognitions from learned societies were reported across all Ohio State faculty — up 14%. I’ll mention a few —but know they reflect the work of so many more.

  • Seven Ohio State scientists were elected as Fellows of the Association for the Advancement of Science.
  • Soil scientist Rattan Lal received the prestigious 2019 Japan Prize.
  • Elaine Mardis, part of the Pelotonia Institute for Immuno-Oncology team, and College of Medicine Dean Craig Kent were elected to the National Academy of Medicine.
  • And Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska  became the first woman from Ohio State to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

2019 was also a record-breaking year for research at our university — with $929 million in research expenditures, including $158 million in industry-sponsored research.

Ohio State is joining public universities across the state of Ohio to boost research and technology commercialization in Ohio. The Ohio Intellectual Property (IP) Promise, announced by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted at Ohio State, will help ensure that the state’s public universities are best in class when it comes to the transfer of university discoveries to the commercial sector.

We are grateful for the work of all of our faculty, staff, students and partners devoted to leading advancements in research, including Bruce McPheron, who leads our faculty, and our Senior Vice President for Research Morley Stone.

We were pleased to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our Wexner Center for the Arts this past fall. We were also excited to welcome new director Johanna Burton to lead this cultural treasure on our campus.

Our health sciences colleges and medical center have achieved a number of milestones this year. It was a record-breaking year in research awards for the Wexner Medical Center in all categories. Total awards for the medical center and our health sciences colleges were over $325 million, a record high. The funding total is about $68 million more than the previous fiscal year.

Ohio State received the largest NIH grant in our history as part of the HEALing Communities Study. The university is leading a consortium of state universities and partnerships with the goal of reducing opioid deaths.

Along with our research, our health sciences college trainees are thriving, we’re treating more patients than ever before and our patient satisfaction numbers are at all-time highs.

The university continues to drive administrative efficiencies while looking for innovative ways to generate revenue. Five years ago, we set a goal to identify $200 million in new dollars and $200 million in administrative efficiencies across campus.

I am pleased to share we will achieve over $200 million in efficiencies outside of the medical center by the end of the fiscal year. And we far exceeded our revenue generation with $1.5 billion from increased philanthropy and our energy partnership alone.

We often talk about how important our donors and friends are to our academic mission. This fall, the university launched the most ambitious community-building and fundraising endeavor in our history. Time and Change: The Ohio State Campaign is rooted in the idea of championing human potential — of coming together as Buckeyes to create new and exciting pathways forward. Our goal is to engage 1 million supporters, something that has never been done before in higher education.

As we work to be careful stewards of our resources, we are also working on a number of initiatives to modernize our university and how we operate.

We continue to make progress on our long-term vision for the physical campus to position ourselves to be the university of the future. From the new Arts District to West Campus to the technology corridor on north campus, we are continuing to build, grow and improve the quality of our facilities.

We’re modernizing our aging administrative technology with Workday, which will consolidate many systems and experiences beginning this summer.

We also announced the implementation of a $15 per hour minimum wage for staff positions across the university and medical center as part of our continuing commitment to invest in the lives of families. I’m thrilled that we can do that.

We’re also working to make Ohio State a smarter university. From our work to improve energy efficiency on the Columbus campus by 25% over 10 years, part of our comprehensive energy management project, to our commitment to reducing carbon emissions and other waste, we are demonstrating sustainability in action.

Our collective efforts have elevated Ohio State to a place that it has never been before. What I have seen as president over the past six years is an inclusive community of dedicated students, scholars and professionals leading from the front in higher education. We are broadly represented in national organizations that lead efforts to advance higher education. We actively contribute to advocacy and policy on America’s most important research priorities. And we are increasingly recognized throughout the communities we serve as a top-tier public research university.

Now, in order to fulfill our potential in the years and decades ahead, it is critical to continue our momentum broadly across the entire institution. It is critical to provide pathways to an affordable, outstanding education for more and more people. It is vital to raise the bar in health and wellness, focusing not just on treatment but on prevention. And it is important to be actively engaged in creating a diverse and inclusive community that is welcoming to all.

Having been in higher education for 40 years, I know of no other institution better positioned to fulfill its land-grant mission on a grand scale than The Ohio State University.

We strive to be champions for people and their potential in everything we do. When we are at our best, we create a meaningful impact for communities in our state, nation and around the globe. It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve at this university with all of you.

I look forward to continuing our incredible momentum as the years roll. How firm thy friendship! O-H! Thank you!


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