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Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, speaks Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the LITE Center in Lafayette, La.

Research and development money at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has soared by more than double over the past five years, President E. Joseph Savoie said in his annual State of the University speech.

Over five years, incoming dollars rose from $80 million in 2016 to $100 million in 2017, $124 million in 2018, $144 million in 2019 to $164 million in 2020.

That was a significant but not the sole factor that led Savoie to say that the university is “in better fiscal shape than last year at this time.”

The president said other key reasons why UL Lafayette has improved its financial position during the pandemic included record-setting philanthropy and donations to the athletic department.

“We’ve made history,” Savoie said, with $56.6 million in gifts and pledges that included the largest single academic investment in UL Lafayette’s history, a $20 million gift to the College of Nursing and Allied Health from the LHC Group. That gift, he said, would benefit both the department and the healthcare workforce as the college grows and graduates more nurses and healthcare professionals, desperately needed in the state and nation.

The university’s athletic department also received $15 million from Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, the largest gift ever to the department, which Savoie quipped would “give new meaning to the Hail Mary pass.” The gift will be paid over 15 years and earned the medical center naming rights at the home of Ragin’ Cajun football.

In addition, the UL Lafayette Foundation ended the fiscal year with $232 million in resources, up $45 million from the previous year. Endowed gifts provided 1,177 students with scholarships and supported 305 endowed chairs and professorships.

Among other bright spots, Savoie listed a record setting year for granting degrees, 3,592, that included records for Black, Hispanic and Asian students. That success followed adoption two years ago of the “Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence, 2019 to 2022.”

Ramesh Kolluru, vice president of research, innovation and economic development, said the increase in funding from federal, state and private sources has made a beneficial impact on the community, nation and world -- as well as on UL Lafayette.

“It has allowed us to impact society in a meaningful way by growing our intellectual capacity and recruiting higher caliber faculty and graduate students,” he said. He cited the university’s partnership with the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, research in clean and renewable energy and progress in solving water management and watershed problems as significant work that has beneficially affected everyone from around the globe and to the community.

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He said additional dollars benefited faculty and student research and had “real, tangible results” in attracting students. In 2013, he said, UL Lafayette research dollars touched 575 individuals who in some way got funding through grants. That number has increased to 1,452 in 2020.

He said there is more recent research and research dollars that didn’t make it into the report released Wednesday but it will be reflected in next year’s report.

Savoie said that indications are that freshman and graduate enrollment has risen, while transfer numbers remain steady. That was important as the pandemic stretches into its second year.

State government, he said, made significant contributions to higher education this year, fully funding TOPS scholarships and allowing UL Lafayette to fund pay raises on campus. That followed 13 consecutive years of state cuts. During that period, state contributions to higher education dropped from 66 percent in 2008 to less than 30 percent this year. Students have made up much of the difference through increased tuition.

“We’re appreciative of the governor and Legislature,” he said.

Provost Jaimie Hebert reported that the faculty made herculean efforts during the year to shift from traditional, face-to-face classrooms to online education – in five days.

Students showed great resiliency, he said, but so did faculty and staff, which he said provided testimony that “people are what really make this place remarkable.”

He said despite the pandemic, UL Lafayette developed and launched six graduate programs including a new doctorate, put more programs online and proved their mettle through COVID research and support.

But the foremost accomplishment, he said, was converting the curriculum to remote delivery in less than a week. Some 59 percent of face-to-face settings “went to remote learning,” he said. “We had no time to preplan, no vision of what success” would look like.

But faculty members managed to move the curriculum online and “no one outside of higher education can understand the magnitude of that,” he said. Seventy-five percent of students, 81 percent of faculty were affected.

Savoie said that 80 percent of the faculty and staff has been vaccinated while the campus encouraged student vaccinations through noteworthy efforts like the “Don’t wait. Vaccinate!” and the “Shot for $100” campaigns.

Speeches by Savoie and Hebert were recorded this month and released Wednesday.


Email Ken Stickney at kstickney@theadvocate.com.