Washington State University President V. Lane Rawlins talked about the need for higher education to be “a transforming force in this nation,” during his annual State of the University address delivered Tuesday in Bryan Hall Theatre on the Pullman campus.

Rawlins said in his recent discussions with political and business leaders, they have frequently talked about the vital role that they say higher education must play in strengthening our economy and our quality of life.

“There is a niche for us (at WSU) there, and it is a niche at the very top,” said Rawlins, who cited the critical job of higher education in not just “thinking back to what yesterday was, but to what tomorrow is going to be.”

Pointing to progress the university had made in recent years, Rawlins said WSU is well-positioned to face the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Rawlins, who has served as WSU’s president for more than five years, talked about the importance of the university’s effort to raise the academic quality of the student body. The freshman class that began classes last month is again the best-qualified in the university’s history, based on overall grade point average and standardized test scores.

“We are reaching the people we need to reach and are reaching them in the right way,” Rawlins said. “We have an obligation to serve the good students of this state who want to be Cougars.”

The WSU president also discussed the increased research funding that the university has attracted in recent years and the strong statewide presence that WSU has built through its regional campuses and extension programs.

“This is a time for us to think bigger than one place. WSU is not a place. It is a spirit and it is a way of delivering educational services around the state,” Rawlins said.

Rawlins expressed appreciation for the money that WSU received from the state in the latest biennial budget. One important aspect of that budget was the first general salary increase funded by the state in four years. In fact, Rawlins cited the salary increase – an important factor in rewarding and retaining faculty and staff – at the top of his annual list of university good news for the year.

The state allocated money for a 3.2 percent general salary increase this year; WSU administrators found additional funding to raise that to 5 percent. Next year, a 1.6 percent increase is funded in the budget; Rawlins said he hopes the university will be able to raise that to 3 percent.

Despite an improved state budget picture, Rawlins said that to make the progress he would like to see, WSU will have to do a better job raising private funds and building partnerships. He also said the university would strengthen its government relations efforts.

Rawlins was introduced by Ken Struckmeyer, associate professor in horticulture and landscape architecture and chair of the Faculty Senate.