University of Minnesota Alumni Association


From the Desk of Eric Kaler

A Few of My Favorite Numbers.

I'm a chemical engineer and, so, a numbers guy. Here are a few numbers that represent the trajectory we’re on as a university and the principles we stand for.

Let me start with a nice round number: 8. It reveals just how good we are these days. And you don’t have to take it from me, but from the respected Center for Measuring University Performance (CMUP), which crunches numbers and measures the across-the-board excellence of the nation’s universities. These are not the U.S. News & World Report rankings, which often are gamed by colleges.

The people at CMUP examine, among other things, every public university’s federal research dollars, incoming ACT scores, faculty named to their national academies, endowments, and philanthropic giving. In total, they look at nine categories to paint a full picture of an institution, and then determine which public universities rank in the top 25 in all nine categories.

And guess what? Only 8 in the entire nation rank so high in all the categories. Ohio State, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Oh . . . and us!

Yes, we’re one of the 8 best public research universities in the nation. And, by the way, we’re also the 8th most active public research university in the nation. We spend about $900 million a year on discoveries, from pharmaceuticals to plastics to medical devices to water quality to educational software.

But a number is only as good as what it represents. Which leads to the number 32 and a fellow from Wadena, Minnesota, named Robby Grendahl. Robby was 15 years old— 32 years ago—when, while playing hockey, he suddenly couldn’t catch his breath. He became light-headed and he and his parents soon learned that he was suffering full-blown heart failure. He was rushed to our University of Minnesota hospital and became the youngest patient ever to receive a heart transplant there.

Now, at 47 years old, Grendahl is the longest-surviving male heart transplant patient in the nation. Because of that transplant, he was able to marry his high school sweetheart. He’s got two kids and takes just two pills a day, a lot fewer than most of us old alums!

Which leads to another number I like: 26. This is all about access and opportunity. About 26 percent of our students on the Twin Cities campus are first-generation college students, just like I was in my family. Our role as a gateway to success and opportunity is why I’m so committed to public higher education. We must continue to be a driver of social mobility in our state and nation even as there are troubling educational and economic gaps in our society. Education is the path to a better life.

Excellence, discovery, health care, saving and changing lives, offering opportunity: These are more than numbers and they add up to who and what we are at the University of Minnesota.

Follow me on Twitter @PrezKaler. Or, feel free to write to

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