University of Toledo President Sharon Gaber might run a nationally ranked university, but when it comes to receiving awards about herself, she’s very humble.
“Well, I’ll tell you, it was a great surprise… I read it in print and thought, ‘Wow that's very nice’” Gaber said. “It’s a recognition to the University of Toledo. Certainly, I’m honored to be the president here, but it's about all that we’re doing here. And the fact that the team as a whole is really working to do all these things. It’s not me, it's the entire university.”
Gaber was recognized in January by EducationDive.com as one of the “5 higher ed leaders to watch in 2018 (and beyond)”. The other educators recognized include Harold L. Martin Sr., Chancellor, North Carolina A&T University; Becky Takeda-Tinker, President, Colorado State University—Global Campus; Bob Fisher, President, Belmont University; and Ruth Simmons, President, Prairie View A&M University.
The article praises UT's “advancing cost-reform plans,” retention strategies and student success, with Gaber “leading the way” on campus. Since her hiring in July 2015, she has come far in leading the university in her new vision, which includes several different master plans.
In April, Gaber will continue the tradition of giving a State of the University address in which she’ll highlight what’s to come for UT in the next year.
“What I think I said last year was that ‘We’ve made progress and we’ve more to do’. I’d say the state of the university is good, we’re not quite great,” Gaber said. “So, we’re going to work hard to get to that point… What we’ve done is worked to solidify, really, the basics, and I think everybody has been excited about that.”
Gaber’s cost-reform plans for the university have worked toward turning the university’s financial state into one highlighted as best in the state of Ohio. It’s one of her duties as president to think of these things, but she knows students and staff aren’t usually worried about it.
“I was a professor and sort of worked my way up through the academic ranks, and when you’re a professor... you don’t think a lot about budget and worrying about what does that look like at the university level,” Gaber said. “As I moved up and became a provost and then a president, you spend a lot more time worrying about that and making sure it's going to work.”
According to Gaber, cost-reform is one the biggest things the university is constantly working on.
“I think that we’ve looked at everything in every possible way and tried to figure out what can we do, what we can do efficiently,” Gaber said. “We’ve done a number of things. It’s been interesting just to see how we can do it and what we can scrutinize and say, ‘Is this the best use of our resources here?’ or ‘Would we help students more if we didn’t do that?’”
Ohio has also put together “regional compacts” — groups of universities and colleges in a geographic area — to get together and talk about what they can do more effectively for students. Gaber says UT is in a group with Bowling Green State University, Owens Community College, Terra Community College, Rhodes State Community College and Northwest State Community College.
Gaber said the colleges within this group can help each other with ideas about services for students, which is one of the objectives in which her success was highlighted. She wants UT to be a top choice.
“We can continuously work harder to make sure our graduation rates improve; we want to make sure we stay affordable for students, but our research funding is improving, our fundraising is improving,” Gaber said. “Our faculty is doing good things. Our students are going out and doing great things and becoming outstanding alums.”
Community engagement has been one of the university’s focuses since the beginning of Gaber’s tenure.
“I think that we know we’ve got more students doing much more volunteerism around the community and that is really important to Toledo,” Gaber said. “One of the things I said when I got here was, we are Toledo’s university. We’re Northwest Ohio, but we should be working in the community. We should be a part of Toledo.”
Gaber said that a renaissance is occurring in Toledo, and UT is partially to thank for that. With a student population of 20,000-plus and over 7,000 employees, UT is well-situated inside of Toledo.
“I think that really both on campus and in the broader community, people value us more and we value ourselves more,” Gaber said. “In athletics, they sometimes talk about having a little bit of swagger, and I think we have just a little bit more swagger than we used to because we recognized, ‘Hey you know what, we’re pretty good.’”
The university experienced an upset during the fall semester when the physician assistant program lost its accreditation. They gained it back in January, but Gaber says the events were “a wake-up call with a good outcome.”
“So, it's interesting… we had a program that was run, really, by similar people over a 20-year period, and I think [Christopher Cooper, dean of College of Medicine and Life Sciences] believed in them,” Gaber said. “But then we learned they weren’t following the guidelines, so what we’ve said is, we’ve always got to pay attention… and so it's a little more ‘trust and verify’ than just trust as we might have been in the past.”
The IC covered this series of events, as well as many other media in the area and some national publications. Gaber said the administration is relieved that the accreditation was returned.
“It was a painful wakeup call, and we are very fortunate that the appeal was successful, and so for us, with every program, we are paying attention, eyes wide open,” Gaber said. “Every department chair has to be, every dean has to be.”
In the end, the fight for UT’s accreditation was really for and because of UT’s students.
“Students are the No. 1 priority of the university. What do we exist for, right? Making sure that we’re bringing students in - enrollment, that we’re retaining them and that we’re graduating them. So collectively, I’d label it as student success. Because a university that is not good at doing that, they’re sort of missing the boat.”
Even though all of UT's goals are important, she says her top goal is to continue improving student success. One of the most important things Gaber thinks students should know, and plans on continuing to push, is the importance of taking 15 credit hours each semester to graduate on time.
“If we weren’t telling students that, how would students know it?” she said. “I keep asking the provost, ‘Are we telling [students]? How are we pushing it? Did the advisers share that information?’ We have to continuously tell the story.”
Sharing this important information is part of what Gaber thinks is the key for students to succeed. She says campus has all sort of resources and those who use them are the ones who do their best.
“I think that for most of our students, the students who figure out their niche and how to become a little more involved and have connections, are really more successful,” Gaber said. “This is an opportunity to figure out what you’re passionate about, and I’d say while you’re in college figure out your passion, because it's going to lead you where you’re going to go later on.”