State of the University: ABOR Update

Nov. 19, 2021

Thursday, November 18, 2021, the University's leaders gave an update to the Arizona Board of Regents. It was my privilege to share with them the good work that is happening here in Arizona and around the world every day, and I was joined by Dr. Betsy Cantwell, Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation, and Dr. Michael Dake, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences. 

Despite the continued challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Arizona has had many successes this past year, and I remain very proud our community and what we have accomplished. Yesterday’s presentation included my brief update on the State of the University, followed by Dr. Cantwell sharing with the Regents our strategy for continuing to excel in research and Dr. Dake illustrating the research and education impact of our Health Sciences colleges and centers.

A recording of the presentation is available online. A summary is below.

State of the University

My primary message for the regents was that we continue to thrive. Interest in the University remains strong from students here in Arizona, throughout the country, and internationally, and our incoming classes are growing. Students who chose to attend the University are succeeding, with improvements in retention and graduation rates and continued investment in this crucial area.  

The University’s rankings remain strong, and, as I shared with the board in this presentation and in April, we occupy a distinctive place in our state and higher education nationally as a top-20 public university in both enrollment and research activity with designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution and a focus on access and affordability. I also emphasized how our success in fundraising over the past four years will enable future achievements for our students, faculty, and staff. 

I closed my portion of the presentation by sharing how excited we are for community engagement efforts such as our admission team’s partnership with the Sunnyside Unified School District and the launch of Tucson’s first health and medical careers high school in collaboration with the Pima Joint Technical Education District and other community partners. This new school will create pathways to fulfilling academic and professional careers for students in Tucson’s underserved communities, and, with programs like the Sunnyside partnership, it helps fulfill our commitment to serve southern Arizona students and communities. 

Research, Innovation, and Impact: The Resilient State

Dr. Cantwell shared more on the University’s strengths and plans for continuing to excel in funded research. Our faculty are among the most productive researchers in the nation, both in terms of the impact of their work and measurements of research activity, where they routinely out-perform peers in HERD expenditures by faculty FTE. 

Fulfilling the goals set for us by ABOR and making Arizona more resilient for the future both require continued investment. Particularly important are infrastructure and shared resources to enable and elevate the work of faculty members from throughout the University, as well as areas of opportunity driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution and by federal research priorities. 

As Dr. Cantwell shared with the Board, our track record of leveraging state investment is strong. Over the past 20 years, Arizona’s Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF) has enabled successes in bioscience, education, space sciences, and many other areas, all of which create positive impact in our state and world and which contribute materially to the student experience and opportunities.  

University of Arizona Health Sciences: Year in Review

Our presentation closed with a broad overview of the University of Arizona Health Sciences from Dr. Dake. He discussed the impressive growth of research activity at the colleges and centers of Health Sciences over the past five years, including an increase in NIH funding of 120% at the College of Medicine – Tucson since 2016, and our plans for expanding offerings and student support to meet Arizona’s workforce needs in health care and biosciences. These include the primary care physician scholarship program that is expanding access to a University of Arizona medical education. We are also very proud of innovative programs such as the new interprofessional PharmD/Nurse Practitioner program, a unique offering that will educate health care providers able to serve areas with unmet need, and the B.S. in Medicine degree program that will provide undergraduate students the opportunity to begin preparing for a full range of career paths in health care. 

Dr. Dake also shared with the Regents some of our plans for new research and education centers funded through state appropriations through the New Economy Initiatives, as well as programs that are distinctive to both the University and our state, such as the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Database and the Valley Fever Center for Excellence.

Looking Ahead

This presentation was an opportunity to reflect on the past year, but also to look forward and share with our governing board what we intend to accomplish in the years to come. The University of Arizona has the capacity for world-changing impact, and I am very excited for what we will see in 2022. Through the many challenges we have faced, we have remained true to our mission and committed to our students and to the many communities we serve. 

Robert C. Robbins, M.D.


The University of Arizona