The following piece first appeared in The Daily Campus.
SMU Eyes Bright Future
Rahfin Faruk, The Daily Campus, Jan 22 2012
As SMU looks forward to the next century, its administrators are working hard to raise the university's reputation across the board.
A $750 million academic strategic plan is set to enhance academic quality through endowed faculty positions and student quality through merit-based and financial aid scholarships, adding uniqueness to an already diverse campus experience.
The eventual goal of the large project is to raise SMU's academic ranking.
"We want to be in the top 50 schools in the nation," Brad Cheves, SMU vice president for development and external affairs, said.
U.S. News and World Report, one of the most prominent college ranking organizations, currently ranks SMU as 62nd in the nation.
The organization uses seven categories to rank national universities: graduation and retention rates, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving, faculty resources, high school counselor academic reputation ratings and peer assessments.
SMU's highest ranking in the history of the university came in 2011 when the university was ranked 56th in the nation.
"The U.S. News rankings are based on mostly objective criteria. But about 20 percent of the ranking is based on the perception of others," Cheves said. "And that is where our comprehensive plan comes into play."
SMU's Second Century Campaign emphasizes a comprehensive approach to academics. It will focus on endowed faculty positions, student diversity and research on campus, among other areas.
"By focusing on things like faculty retention and student scholarship, we can increase our academic quality," Cheves said.
"We are relying on general student funds and endowments but also expanding."
SMU is looking towards other avenues to raise resources for ambitious plans in the next decade. Administrators like Cheves believe in a culture of giving from alumni.
SMU has set a goal that calls for 25 percent of all alumni to donate to the university every year, while at least 50 percent of alumni are encouraged to donate once in their lifetime.
"Twenty-one percent of alumni already donate regularly, and 41 percent of alumni have already donated once," Cheves said. "But it's regular closeness to the university that's most important."
SMU has also reached out to citizens of Dallas-Fort Worth who recognize the importance of the university to the area.
"While we can raise resources, it all depends on our students, especially from a reputation standpoint," Cheves said.
Programs like the Richter Fellowship, Unbridled Learning, Big iDeas and public service internships from the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility can help students gain national recognition.
"Provost Ludden works very hard at working on strong relations with other universities so our reputation can be built up," Cheves said.
Cheves is enthusiastic about SMU's move to the Big East because it will increase the visibility of the university.
"Not only will this opportunity be great for our student athletes, but it will also be great because many of the members of the conferences are just like us," Cheves said. "Georgetown, St. John's, Notre Dame and Rutgers are all examples of top tier private universities."
Colleges like Butler and George Mason received increased national visibility after successful runs during March Madness— an NCAA Division I basketball tournament that determines the national champion for any given year.
"Let's face it. For national universities, a lot of our reputation comes from sports," Cheves said. "And especially because academics flow from East to West, this will make people pay attention."
"My friends who went to college in the North will finally know where SMU is," first-year Mehdi Hami said.
As SMU moves to the next century and enhances its academic programs, it strives to be a university that will be recognizable across the nation and provide a world-class education for all of its students.
"This is the time to renew and strengthen our vital partnerships to address the region's challenges and potential," SMU President R. Gerald Turner said in a Dallas Morning News editorial in April of last year.
"By remaining true to our mission, we will ensure that SMU lives up not only to the founders' vision, but also to the aspirations of leaders now and for the future."