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UND focus is on leadership, innovation, President Mark Kennedy says

UND President Mark Kennedy provided an update Tuesday morning of the university's progress in enacting its strategic plan. (Korrie Wenzel/Grand Forks Herald)

UND is looking to capitalize on a brand built around leadership.

University President Mark Kennedy took to the stage in the ballroom of UND's Memorial Union to deliver his "Wake up to UND: Leaders in Action" address. The event was sponsored by the area Chamber of Commerce and centered around a positive view of the university's progress along its recently enacted strategic plan, an overarching document intended to drive improvement across all areas of the institution.

Kennedy's presentation was introduced by a brief video segment outlining the success of the school's women's volleyball team, a clip intended to demonstrate leadership and teamwork. Those themes provided a convenient illustration of the school's new slogan—"Leaders in Action"—which was drafted over the summer using input from a months-long branding study conducted last spring.

Kennedy also used a recent volleyball victory as a metaphor for the university—down by two sets and faced with odds stacked against them, the team nonetheless persevered and won the match. The president likened that scenario to that of UND having moved through two subsequent budget cuts and still finding success in a competitive landscape of higher education, a point Kennedy evidenced by citing the school's general upward movement in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings and its placement on a more selective list of the top 25 "most innovative" institutions.

As he has done in past presentations of UND's overarching strategic plan, Kennedy pointed to statistics indicating weak growth in higher education across the country. The counterweight to that, he added, was relatively strong growth in the online education sector.

"Overall, the number of students coming to universities has been down every semester since 2013," he said. "In the nation as a whole, the number of students on campus at four-year public universities is markedly down, with a greater percentage of their students being online."

Kennedy added that the "most innovative" approach, a recognition given after a survey of leaders at other schools, needed to be leveraged to help UND succeed in a tightening market.

At UND, recent enrollment statistics for the fall semester indicate a decline in the total number of students coupled with a slight increase in the number of new freshmen.

"Given the trend that we've been on, similar to what we've seen in the nation, it's going to take us a year or two of strong freshman classes in order to turn the total head count up," he said.

The president was optimistic nonetheless as he spoke to the school's increased focus on better marketing, its attempts to build a more cohesive, friendly campus community and its continued embrace of experiential learning.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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