July 1 marked my twentieth anniversary as president of Arizona State University. Some of you weren’t yet born when I took office, and those who were may know only fragments of the changes ASU has undergone since then. Either way, the full story of where we were, what we’ve done and where we’re headed is too lengthy to share here, but there are several details that are too important to ignore on this occasion.
When I left Columbia University to lead ASU, I did not arrive alone. I brought family and colleagues, along with many ideas about what a university could be. I had been a student, a professor and an academic administrator by then, and those experiences informed what I saw was working–and not working–in higher education. That inspired me to re-imagine how a university could produce better outcomes for its students, the community and the world beyond. With that in mind, the concept for the New American University was the first thing I unpacked here and its core concepts have fueled every aspect of ASU’s evolution for the last two decades.
Steering a ship the size of a small city is no simple task. Effectively addressing the many prospects, challenges, needs and perspectives involved is a weighty and complex responsibility. However, I have been more than fortunate to be surrounded from “day one” by university and community members, colleagues, friends and mentors who believed that designing a university dedicated to simultaneous academic excellence, broad access and social impact was both possible and necessary. With their support and hard work, we set out together to bring the New American University to life by prioritizing student success, reorganizing our structure, and empowering faculty and staff to freely innovate and collaborate across units and disciplines to create positive change.
The scope, scale and speed of ASU’s culture change has been unprecedented. Every aspect of our institution–from our physical footprint to our tuition model and technology philosophy–has been reimagined. In the face of changing economic tides, losses in state funding, cynicism about the value of a college degree, and the swiftly changing expectations of students, parents and employers, our idea for the New American University has been a constant “north star,” allowing us to successfully turn the ship, steady our course and speed our transformation as a new breed of American university. And we have done all of that while educating and graduating thousands of students, and serving our state without interruption.
Building perpetually from the mindset that a university is more than a place, but also a force for advancing real and significant social outcomes, ASU now produces five times the number of graduates it did 20 years ago. We perform nearly five times the amount of world-class research we used to, and we serve twenty-five times the number of learners seeking to enhance their knowledge. We are a global leader in sustainability education, research and practice.
ASU is more diverse than ever before, with a student body that reflects the ethnicities of the communities we serve and also mirrors the socioeconomic diversity of Arizona’s population. Thousands of learners from more than 136 countries around the world have made ASU the “top public university of choice” for international students, and both current Sun Devils and our outstanding alumni are working and thriving around the globe. ASU is now empowered to educate more high-quality engineers, teachers, health professionals and business executives than ever before; to establish educational and research alliances with global powerhouses like Starbucks, Uber and adidas; and to spearhead groundbreaking virtual reality technology like Dreamscape Learn, a game-changing educational offering with the potential to engage students in unparalleled, off-world learning experiences.
All told, we have spent the last 20 years finding new and better ways to reach traditional and non-traditional students where they are; to make college more accessible and affordable; and to build fruitful relationships with other ambitious and innovative individuals and organizations. We are constructing a comprehensive knowledge enterprise that is designed to continually enhance the value of your college degree while also enhancing your daily quality of life–no matter where you are–through real world service.
As someone who has personally visited more than 800 college and university campuses in 60-plus countries during my career, I can write without reservation that ASU is one of the greatest universities that has ever been created, and we are not done yet.
No matter what comes our way in the future, ASU’s gaze is set on the horizon and our steadfast commitment to the heart of the New American University, our official charter, will continue to guide us to new frontiers. I am excited to continue this incredible journey together and I want to hear your ideas about where the next 20 years should take us.
— Michael Crow
This column was featured in "The Crow Issue," a State Press Magazine project looking back at the past 20 years of Michael Crow's tenure as University president. See the entire publication here.