University Affairs

President Cockett Sums Up USU's Progress During Year, Her Tenure, in 2023 State of the University

By Steve Kent |

Approaching the end of her presidential tenure in July, Utah State University President Noelle E. Cockett delivered her final 2023 State of the University address Monday afternoon.

“No matter where I go, or where I am, or what I’m doing, my heart will be filled with pride and love for this incredible university,” Cockett told Aggies assembled in the Eccles Conference Center and via online streaming.

After stepping down from USU’s top office, Cockett said, she’ll resume her research in the Department of Animal, Dairy & Veterinary Sciences.

In her address, Cockett recapped several of the university’s accomplishments over the past year, the past legislative session and her tenure as president as a whole.

Expanding Access to Higher Education

Cockett shared encouraging benchmarks in USU’s commitment to expand access to higher education. 2022-23 saw the university’s largest incoming class ever, up more than 14%. First-generation student enrollment in that incoming class also increased by more than 16%.

“One of the things that we’ve really been focusing (on) is to bring college to people and families who may not have that in their history,” Cockett said.

Total enrollment at USU increased by nearly 2% in 2022-23.

Degree completion is up at USU, as well, according to Cockett. While the number of students attending classes has stayed nearly the same over the past decade, degrees awarded increased by nearly 22%.

Those figures for awarded degrees represent “keeping the students here and getting them done in a timely manner,” Cockett said, “so we are doing that absolutely, incredibly well.”

Several student success initiatives are aiding in that effort, including peer-to-peer academic coaching, a redesigned career design center, and the Habits of Mind and Aggie First Scholars programs. USU has also worked to get students into majors more quickly, and Cockett said the number of students in exploratory advising has decreased from about 4,000 to around 3,000.

The Utah State Promise, announced in 2021, is a “last dollar” scholarship that covers any remaining tuition and student body fees for students who are receiving Pell Grants and maintain a certain GPA.

“Now students that really are financially struggling can come to USU knowing that they will have support through four years,” Cockett said.


Research expenditures at USU increased to nearly $345 million in fiscal year 2022, up from $325 million in 2021 and up from $187 million just five years prior in 2017. USU is climbing the research-expenditure rankings, Cockett said: Among land-grant universities, USU recently surpassed the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which reported $307 million in FY 2022, putting it in third place to Washington State, which reported $358 million, and Colorado State, which reported $447 million.

A large share of USU’s research expenditures come from Space Dynamics Laboratory, and Cockett has made it a point to emphasize that “SDL is Utah State.”

“SDL is for Utah State like the medical school is for the U,” Cockett said. “It is not something that happens over there (on the Innovation Campus) and we have no idea what they’re doing. It is USU. It is part of our research portfolio, it is part of our success.”

Further, SDL was recently awarded a $1 billion, 10-year contract with the Air Force.

“They are growing like gangbusters,” Cockett said. “If you’ve driven out by the Innovation Campus, you’ll see a new building just about every year. That is how strong their reputation is.”

Underscoring the connection between USU and SDL, the Atmospheric Waves Experiment, scheduled for launch this December, is led by Michael Taylor from USU’s College of Science, while SDL is responsible for AWE’s total project management, systems engineering, safety and mission assurance, and on-orbit operations.

Land, Water & Air

USU has been at the forefront of research regarding Utah’s crucial land, water and air resources. The receding Great Salt Lake generated concerned conversations within Utah and media stories worldwide before becoming a focal issue of the recent legislative session. Along with the University of Utah, USU was asked to organize the Great Salt Lake Task Force, which summed up the situation as “stark but hopeful” in its report released Feb. 8.

The Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water and Air at USU released its second annual report in 2022, and during her visit to the legislature earlier this month, Cockett said, one policymaker told her he’d read the 84-page document cover to cover.

Land, water and air research “is one of the stakes we are planting for Utah State,” Cockett said. “It makes sense to people, and it’s what we do as the land-grant with super strong areas in engineering, agriculture, natural resource policy, et cetera.”

This year, legislature entrusted the Janet Quinney Lawson Institute with $314,000 for a needs assessment for Bear Lake to give policymakers and resource managers data to preserve the “Caribbean of the Rockies” even as its popularity among boaters and beachgoers continues to rise.

New Buildings

Cockett’s address came just days after the university broke ground for a new building on the Logan campus’s historic Quad, making way for the Heravi Global Teaching & Learning Center. The center, named for USU alumnus and donor Mehdi Heravi, will house the university’s language programs and a new Peace Institute, also bearing Heravi’s name.

Another groundbreaking is expected within the year, Cockett said, for a building connected to the ongoing experiential learning campaign in the Huntsman School of Business. A ceremony announcing the building’s name is expected in April, according to Cockett.

Further afield, the university is hopeful to break ground within the year for USU Monument Valley, contingent upon securing remaining funding.

“When we construct this building, we are bringing … education and outreach to the community of Monument Valley,” Cockett said. “The Navajo Nation is very, very excited about this.”

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