Guest Series: UNF President John A. Delaney

December 2, 2011 12 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville consistently offers the opportunity for our readers to absorb the editorials, personal accounts, and vocal opinions of some of the key players in the decision making process of our community. This week, University of North Florida President John Delaney.

When the University of North Florida first opened its doors, we were warmly welcomed by the citizens of Jacksonville. Today, the city and UNF  have an even stronger relationship. While many communities across the country have less than positive town-and-gown relationships with their local institution of higher education, this city and this University have become enduring community partners.

Since opening its doors in 1972, local residents have looked to UNF for bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. UNF has also been a great resource for the community, with hundreds of continuing education programs, concerts, lectures and athletic events every year. And with an annual economic impact of $1 billion, UNF is considered one of the largest economic drivers in the region. In every arena — academic, cultural and fiscal — UNF provides a great deal to the Jacksonville community.
Residents who have lived in Jacksonville since the 1970s may remember UNF as “that commuter college in the woods.” In the beginning, UNF provided educational opportunities for place-bound commuters, many of whom were coming from what was Florida Junior College. For many of those first students, UNF was a school of convenience or a fall-back school. But that was then, and this is now.
Now, UNF’s student body is more than 16,000 strong, and those students are proud to declare UNF as their school of choice. Many potential students and their parents are sometimes surprised to hear just how selective UNF is — the freshmen class this fall had an average high school GPA of 3.79 and SAT score of 1208. High-achieving, high-performance students are looking to UNF to take them to the next level in their academic journey.
And once students arrive on campus, they quickly learn that UNF has maintained the very features that the first students enjoyed in the '70s — small class sizes and individualized attention from faculty and staff. But they also experience what makes UNF unique today:  Transformational Learning Opportunities (TLOs as they are known on campus). TLOs include study abroad and service learning opportunities, faculty-guided research and faculty-directed independent studies, internships, living learning communities or myriad leadership experiences. These engaging educational opportunities broaden and deepen the students’ intellect and worldviews. The common denominator among TLOs — whether they take place in the classroom or in the field — is the potential to significantly impact a student’s professional and personal development.

Another academic area that sets UNF apart is its Flagship programs. In 2004, we began to identify programs that really take learning to another level —  programs that are noted for the scholarly accomplishments of their faculty and the demonstrable potential of those faculty to sustain a trajectory toward scholarly distinction. These programs, called flagships, have the potential to produce particularly compelling or exceptional educational outcomes for students. This elite group of programs also link the quality of education at UNF to a range of civic needs in the region. Flagship programs receive additional funding with the expectation of obtaining consistent national recognition. There are currently six Flagship programs at UNF: Community Nursing, Coastal Biology, International Business, Transportation and Logistics, Music, and Nutrition and Dietetics.

 UNF’s evolution has caught the attention of several national organizations. Within the last few months, UNF received nine national designations. Forbes Magazine named UNF the No. 19 Best Buy College, Best College in America and Best College in the South; The Princeton Review named UNF as Best College in the Southeast, Best Value Public College, and a top “Green” College. It also garnered Best Regional University by U.S. News & World Report, a Military-Friendly School by G.I Jobs, and the Sierra Club named UNF one of the top 100 “Coolest Schools” in the country.
As we continue to make UNF the best it can be, more positive changes are on the way. We have spent considerable time studying the impact that living on campus has on students across the country, and the evidence is very strong — students who live and learn together are better connected and achieve more success. Because the evidence was so overwhelming, we made the decision to require all first-time college students to live on campus beginning in the summer of 2012.  We recognize that some students have unique circumstances that prevent them from taking advantage of residential campus life, and for those students, we are making exceptions. But for most of our students, this policy will mean a better education and better prospects as they graduate with degrees in hand. It is also the logical next step as we evolve into a stronger and more traditional campus.
In 40 years, much has changed at UNF. However, one commitment has remained consistent:  UNF is changing the educational landscape in Northeast Florida. We take seriously our responsibilities to our students and to this region. And we look forward to the next 40 years of providing leadership in higher education.

Editorial by John Delaney.