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Central Michigan University's president said Thursday that the Mount Pleasant school must transform itself over the next decade to attract and retain more students and prepare them for careers in a rapidly changing economy.

Delivering his State of the University Speech, Robert O. Davies said CMU faces challenges that include a shrinking population of high school seniors, declining state aid and increasing competition in higher education.

Davies, 52, who became CMU's 15th president in September 2018, said the school must reinvent itself to serve more nontraditional students, lower costs and produce graduates ready for "careers and sectors that do not even exist yet."

The overarching goal, he said, is to change the university's business model from reliance on credit hours to make it a sustainable institution that strives for excellence. To do that, the school must evaluate and evolve in "everything we do throughout the university," Davies said.

"This is what we teach our students," he told a crowd gathered in Warriner Hall's Plachta Auditorium. "Roll up your sleeves. Get the job done. Strive for excellence. And that is exactly what we are going to do in the years ahead to go from good to great."

Davies said urgent action is needed to reverse troubling trends at CMU, including drops in enrollment and student retention. From 2010 to 2018, fall enrollment of undergraduates and graduates fell from 28,086 to 21,705, a decline of more than 20%, according to university statistics.

Davies said CMU also has seen its proportion of first-year students who return for a second year fall from its traditional rate of 78% to 73%, a trend he blamed on the high cost of earning a degree. 

"To be blunt, that must change," he said. Over the past decade, the university has increased scholarship funding by 80% but needs to do more, Davies said.

"We will make significant changes to how we help students and their families pay for college," he said.

Tuition for first-year, full-time students is $12,510, according to the university's website.

Davies said his enrollment goals include attracting more transfer and international students and offering more programs for workers who need a certificate or degree to advance in their careers. "We are going to become the most transfer-friendly university in the state," he said.

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