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VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

In his annual State of the University Address on Thursday, Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D., outlined his plans to focus on and improve the experiences of VCU students, faculty and staff, and patients of VCU Health.

“VCU has a chance, like no other institution I know, to lead 21st-century American higher education and 21st-century health care,” said Rao, speaking before a crowd of hundreds at James Branch Cabell Library. “And, I have to tell you, 21st-century America really needs us to.”

Rao cited troubling statistics facing higher education nationally. A new Gallup Poll showed a 16% drop since last year in the number of Americans who believe going to college is worth it. The Pew Research Center found that 61% of Americans believe higher education is headed in the wrong direction. And Moody’s posted a negative outlook for the U.S. higher education market for the second straight year.

“How did we get where we are? How is it that in 2020 we look like we did 400 years ago? … I think it’s because newer universities that came along, they just aspired to the elitism of colonial colleges that came before them,” Rao said. “Think about all the people that American higher education has left behind. We’re trying to get around that at VCU and I think we’re doing a good job. But I want you to imagine what the world could be if everyone had a chance to live their best lives, if everyone could be a part of the American dream. Just imagine. At VCU, we are changing that.”

VCU, he said, is going to change that story for the rest of the United States by focusing on “performance, not prestige.”

“This is what a 21st-century university should do. It’s what VCU is doing, and needs to take to the next level. It’s why we’re here,” he said. “This will be hard. But the harder it is to do, the more it will matter, the more we’ve got to do it.”

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