Takeaways from Chancellor Grasso’s Oct. 19 town hall

October 24, 2022

Couldn’t make last week’s Conversation with the Chancellor event? We’ve broken down the big news on enrollment, strategic plan progress, hybrid work policies and more.

The university seal atop the Social Sciences Building shines in the sunlight on a fall day on the UM-Dearborn campus.

If you feel like it’s “been years” since our last Conversation with the Chancellor event — you’re right! Due to the pandemic, the last time Chancellor Domenico Grasso had a chance to dialogue in-person with the campus community about big issues shaping the university was back in early 2020. Now that we’re in the midst of a more normal semester, the Conversation events are back, and last Wednesday’s covered a lot of ground. In case you missed it, we’ve summarized some of the main takeaways. You can also view the entire one-hour recording on the university’s YouTube channel.

Enrollment is mostly a good news story

With the exception of one area, which we’ll get into below, there is a lot to feel good about in the Fall 2022 enrollment numbers. Growth in graduate education is one of the biggest bright spots: Compared to Fall 2021, master’s enrollment jumped more than 20%, bolstered by our largest ever incoming class of international students. One other pleasant surprise: After being down for the past several years, transfer student enrollment shot back up more than 6%. That’s our first increase since 2017. The one not-so-great number was among FTIAC students (First Time In Any College), where enrollment dropped 7.3%. As you probably know, this isn’t totally surprising: Michigan has an aging population, and there are simply fewer high school seniors than there used to be. Overall, enrollment decreased by just 1 percent compared to last year, and new students were up 1.2 percent. Two other positive data points: Our four-year graduation rate increased by 3 points to 33%; and due to some changes in our financial aid strategy, net tuition revenue increased by 9%.

The university’s financial standing is strong

That net tuition increase is important because tuition makes up roughly 80% of university revenue. But other numbers also demonstrate UM-Dearborn’s increasingly strong financial footing. University reserves have more than doubled since 2018 and now stand at $38 million. “This is still less than where we should be for a university of our size and budget,” Grasso said. “But we’re on the right track. We’ve never had this level of reserves in the past, and now, if we do encounter downturns, we won’t be as negatively affected.” Earlier this year, our endowment also reached an all-time high of $86 million, though Grasso noted that because of the recent slide in the stock market, that number is a bit less now. External research awards also reached a historic high, topping $11 million. That is more than double 2018’s number, and the percentage of federal awards has risen from 35% to 65%. Internal awards to support faculty research climbed to $400,000 — double 2021’s total. There is good news on the development side as well. Our current capital campaign has already raised $16.5 million; this year’s Giving Blue Day was the biggest ever, raising $130,000; and the total number of donors giving to UM-Dearborn increased by 35% compared to last year.

We’re making steady progress on our strategic plan

UM-Dearborn is continuing to implement initiatives from our Go Blueprint for Success strategic plan. On the academic side, the provost is working on an effort to transition many courses to a 4-credit format. This would allow faculty to teach fewer courses overall and devote more time to scholarly work — and give students fewer courses to focus on each semester. On the business side, Business Affairs began implementing its responsibility-centered management (RCM) budget model for fiscal year ‘23. “This model moves the responsibility to the units, so the deans will have more financial management control over their units,” Grasso said. “They’ll be responsible for revenue generation, and they’ll also be responsible for expenses. They’ll have much more control over their destiny with this new model.” In the area of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), we appointed two inaugural Inclusive Excellence Fellows; completed a DEI Climate Survey, with results expected this fall; and are hosting several guest lecturers and Thought Leader sessions relating to DEI.

In-person campus life is perking up

With the worst of the pandemic apparently behind us, it’s fascinating to watch which aspects of our lives are returning to normal and which may have undergone a paradigm shift. There are still lots of questions when it comes to the nature of work and campus life. But regarding the latter, Dean of Students Amy Finley said students are showing a lot of enthusiasm for a return to in-person activities. “For example, on Victors Link, where our student organizations go to submit their events, between now and the end of the term, we have 286 events and 80-85% are in-person events,” Finley said. Foot traffic at the University Center and Campus Involvement Hub have also ticked up — as have checkouts of the free lawn games. Participation at events, including the Homecoming dance, Cardboard Boat Race and the Homecoming tailgate, has also been strong. When it comes to work, Grasso said the university continues to provide a lot of flexibility and hybrid opportunities. The new Common Days policy has brought more faculty and staff to campus on Mondays and Thursdays, restoring the lively feel many missed during the height of the pandemic. A Future of Work Task Force is also developing a more comprehensive set of recommendations and will be holding focus groups so faculty, staff and students can share their ideas. 

Best of the rest

  • Chancellor Grasso got a chance to meet with new U-M President Santa Ono, who has expressed interest in a tighter relationship with the regional campuses. Ono will visit UM-Dearborn on Friday, Dec. 9.
  • External Relations is working on a brand refresh and new recruitment and advertising campaigns for 2023.
  • The University Center will be officially renamed the James C. Renick University Center in a ceremony on Nov. 17. UM-Dearborn is also commissioning an oil painting in honor of the accomplished UM-Dearborn chancellor, which will be on display at the UC.
  • UM-Dearborn student-athletes are on a tear! The volleyball team’s Brooke Wetherill currently leads the nation in blocks per set. The men's cross country team has two second-place finishes this year and the women's team has two third-place finishes. In a new Big 10 regional campus rivalry, the men's and women's basketball teams are set to take on Penn State-Schuylkill at the Crisler Center on Dec. 20
  • Apparently the donuts at the Conversation with the Chancellor event were very good. Chancellor Grasso has promised donuts at every event — if it will help encourage people to turn out. We don’t think he was kidding. 


Want more details from the Oct. 19 Conversation with the Chancellor? You can watch the full one-hour event on the UM-Dearborn YouTube channel.