This is going to be an exciting year for UNA. Residence hall move-in and the start of the school year have gone very well, and there is a high level of excitement and energy on campus.
There are many new things happening at the University this year that are contributing to this excitement. We opened the new science and technology building, changed our scholarship matrix to help more students attend the University, expanded our recruiting efforts, conducted a record number of campus tours, and faculty and staff made personal contacts with admitted students. This past summer UNA had its most successful SOAR program with over 1,400 new freshman and transfer students attending SOAR (Student Orientation, Advisement, and Registration). We also had 976 parents and family members attend Family Orientation.
Sixty years of higher education research has shown that the number one factor for student success is engagement. One of the best ways for a student to become engaged is by living on campus. Research also shows that students who live on campus experience higher rates of satisfaction, academic success, adjustment, and graduation.
This fall, we opened Mattielou Hall, the first of two new residence halls on campus (Olive will open in the spring). We welcomed over 823 new freshmen to the residence halls, which comprise 74% of our new freshman class. This is a record number of freshmen living on campus. We also welcomed back 584 upperclassmen to our residence halls and 276 in university apartments. We have a record of over 1,600 students (58% freshmen) living in university-owned or operated facilities. That represents 25% of our undergraduate population. At this level of on-campus living, the University of North Alabama has become a residential campus.
Life on a residential college or university is very different. So, what does being a residential campus mean for UNA? Campus life, operations, and culture will shift. Student usage of facilities and services will increase during normal hours and there will be a demand for services and facility usage beyond normal hours of operation. They will ask more questions, participate in more activities, visit and utilize more services and offices, need more guidance, and challenge old processes. They will change the culture of the campus.
There will also be increased opportunities for faculty and staff to serve as mentors. More opportunities for students to be involved in research and campus activities. School pride will increase and expand throughout the campus. They will have a greater connection to the University and thus a greater sense of school pride. This will contribute to their sense of belonging and ownership of their own educational experience.
How can we help students engage and be successful at the University? We can monitor how students are doing, both inside and outside of the classroom. We should collaborate and communicate needs, concerns, and issues that students are dealing with so we can respond. We need to identify bottlenecks or pressure points where things are not working well and address them in a timely manner. We can answer questions, follow up, refer with confidence, and know that others will address issues and help students. We will need to monitor student usage and demand for operations and services and adjust our operations as needed.
Flexible creativity may become the buzzword as we go through this year.
While not all issues or concerns can be fixed overnight, we must work together in a constructive and continuous manner. While we may not always agree on the same path, we will gain much by working out challenges in a collegial way. Students should not only matter, they should feel like they matter at UNA.
In the words of Barbara Jordan, civil rights and political leader,
"We are a [university] of innovation. We do not reject our traditions, but we are willing to adapt to changing circumstances, when change we must. We are willing to suffer the discomfort of change in order to achieve a better future."
This will be a great year for the University of North Alabama. ROAR LIONS!
David P. Shields, Jr.
Vice President for Student Affairs