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“If we aren’t investing in our students, we aren’t doing things right. We want to raise money for things other than bricks and mortar,” Radford University President Brian Hemphill said after Friday’s State of the University speech on campus.

RADFORD — Radford University is providing more scholarship money than ever to encourage students to attend a school that’s continuing to create strong educational opportunities, President Brian Hemphill said Friday.

In his annual State of the University speech, Hemphill also pointed out the accomplishments of others in improving RU over the past year.

“This is an important time in our storied history and one in which Highlander students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends have a unique opportunity… to reflect upon our recent and resounding successes, while preparing for our bold and promising future,” Hemphill said in remarks that lasted about 40 minutes.

Hemphill, and the people he asked to stand to be recognized, garnered many rounds of applause. Hemphill touted a number of accomplishments including partnerships with New River Community College and Emory & Henry College, athletic successes and the process of merging Jefferson College of Health Sciences with Radford University.

The event also featured a cameo appearance from the school’s Highlander mascot, which was recognized as the top mascot in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament by USA Today. Radford also won its first ever tournament game.

In addition, Hemphill made a pair of announcements about new programs:

• A new Presidential Fellows initiative, which will embed a faculty member in the president’s office while that person conducts research and will “pursue an idea that is designed to enhance the university’s focus on teaching, research and excellence,” Hemphill said. After the speech, Hemphill said he thought it was important to maintain a healthy dialogue with faculty to strengthen his administration. The first fellow will begin in that role in the spring of 2019.

• And, the university is committed to providing $25,000 each of the next four years to continue to fund the Radford Amazonian Research Expedition, a study abroad project that sends RU students to the Peruvian Amazon.

The university faces a number of challenges moving forward. Virginia is graduating fewer high school seniors and more than 90 percent of Radford University students are in-state. Radford has had basically flat enrollment for the past three years.

Hemphill said one way Radford is addressing that challenge is by providing students with scholarships.

Historically, Hemphill said during the speech, Radford invested $4.2 million annually in direct scholarship support of students. The number is now $7.5 million, or an increase of 81 percent, he said.

“It’s all about improving access opportunities and affordability,” Hemphill said after the speech. “If we aren’t investing in our students we aren’t doing things right. We want to raise money for things other than bricks and mortar.”

It’s especially important because the number of first generation students who come from low-income backgrounds makes up 36 percent of the school’s student body.

Hemphill has the full backing of his bosses, the school’s board of visitors, board Rector Mark Lawrence said.

“I thought the speech was fantastic,” Lawrence said. “I have high expectations for President Hemphill every time he speaks and he exceeds them every time.”

The future is bright, Hemphill said. The strides the president has made in his first three years will help the university continue to improve in the future, he speculated.

“We are prepared to redefine Radford University,” Hemphill said, “a university that is driven by our vision of becoming the premier, innovative university in the commonwealth of Virginia and beyond with a keen focus on teaching, research and service.”

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