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UNT looking to innovation, international collaboration to accelerate its growth

The University of North Texas is looking to partnerships across India and China as well as in Frisco to help strengthen and grow the university in the coming year. 

UNT President Neal Smatresk explained the strategies he's planning to deploy this year to create the "next generation research university" during his annual state of the university address Thursday in Murchison Performing Arts Center. 

He started by recapping highlights from the past year, like having the largest number of graduates in the institution's history. His main focus was looking forward at how to keep growing enrollment, keep students until they graduate and grow UNT's influence internationally this year and beyond.

"We have a full-court press to learn how to harness the brainpower of China and India to bring it here in service of our institution and our economy," Smatresk said, adding he also wants to grow partnerships near the Frisco campus. 

Partnerships with universities and companies in China will help transform how education is conducted at UNT. He's working on partnerships with schools and technical training programs internationally to broadcast UNT classes and leadership to as many students as possible.

In China, the government is working on a project called China Online, Smatresk said. His big idea is to take something like the history of jazz class, charge $40 per student, with hopes there would be a million students who take the course. This could fund a new music building on the Denton campus if it ever came to fruition, he joked. 

"Amen, brother," John Richmond, the dean of the College of Music, said laughing from the audience. 

Smatresk also spoke of efforts to keep students from North Texas in North Texas, instead of getting recruited to other schools across the state and country. A major effort also needs to continue to make sure all students who enter UNT cross the finish line to get their degree. In the past year, the school has increased the number of academic advisers and lowered barriers for graduation, but they need to do more, Smatresk said.

Jennifer Evans-Cowley, the new provost and vice president of academic affairs, is working on a new plan for retention based on new data sets the school has started collecting, he said. 

"We've made some strides in retention, but they're quite incremental," Smatresk said. "We don't want to move a point a year, although we'll take it if it's the best we can do, but we want to see if we can challenge the retention of the best universities in the country with the first-generation population. Because this state doesn't get where it needs to go, where we need to be or build a prosperous economy if we don't welcome and encourage everyone and show them a success path so they can move forward."

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889.

FEATURED PHOTO: University of North Texas President Neal Smatresk talks to faculty and administration Thursday at Murchison Performing Arts Center about the past year at UNT as well as it's future during his annual state of the university address.
Jake King/DRC