Chancellor's Website

Academic, Athletic Excellence Deliver UMass Lowell to Division I

Feb. 13, 2013

Dear faculty, staff, students and alumni:

We have achieved so much on this campus in the past six years – record-breaking enrollment growth, pioneering research, shovels hitting the ground for seven new buildings and unprecedented student success.  I could not be prouder of all we have accomplished together and the foundation we have laid for the future of this great institution.

Today marks another historic milestone for the University of Massachusetts Lowell. I am pleased to announce that America East has invited our university to join its Division I athletic conference and – after receiving the unanimous endorsement of the Student Government Association and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and the support of President Robert Caret and the Board of Trustees – we have accepted. 

This move is testimony to the abilities and accomplishments of our student athletes, all of whom, except men’s ice hockey, compete at the Division II level, where they have enjoyed enormous success. But the decision to advance to Division I in all sports is not just about athletics. It is about who we are as an institution and where we are going.  

Every single one of our peer institutions competes at the Division I level and, when we join America East on July 1, we will unite with other four-year research universities of similar size and mission.  All the eight public institutions in the conference, including ours, are ranked among the top-100 public universities in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Those include the universities of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, already our fellow members of Division I Hockey East.

When presidents and officials from America East visited campus, they didn't want to only tour our athletic facilities and examine our record of athletic prowess. They also wanted to see the new innovation center where our world-class faculty members are doing research and the bricks being laid for a new student engagement center, health and social sciences building, and two new residence halls. They examined the reports on our student success rates. They witnessed first-hand the dramatic transformation taking place here. Just days after the visit, they voted to ask UMass Lowell to join their conference. 

We appreciate the confidence that America East has shown in our institution. This was only possible because of the incredible progress everyone has helped us achieve over the last six years.  

These are the metrics:
  • Three years ago, for the first time, UMass Lowell was named a top tier national university and has continued to rise in the U.S. News & World Report rankings annually.
  • Enrollment at the university has grown 40 percent, while diversity and academic credentials of students have risen dramatically. The average SAT score of entering freshmen is up 56 points.
  • Student success significantly increased, including freshmen retention and graduation rates. Students on athletic teams continue to graduate at a higher rate than those who are not. 
  • The University has raised $77 million in gifts and pledges, increased its endowment from $37 million to $60 million, expanded annual funded research by 66 percent to $60 million and initialed 95 agreements with top universities in 40 countries around the world.
  • Infrastructure expansion, including the most advanced technology research facility north of Boston, is revitalizing the campus. Seven new buildings are coming on line, in addition to the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference and the Tsongas Center, and others are in the planning stages.
  • Our 75,000 graduates earn among the top mid-career and starting salaries in New England, according to PayScale.com, and the University has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation and President Obama’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for community and campus engagement. 
This campus is rising in every way. Elevating Athletics is the next logical step.

We face some challenges, as we ask our Athletics program and our student athletes to step onto the premier stage of intercollegiate sports. We will ask a lot of them, as we do all of our students, and require them to meet the highest academic standards. But, that is not new. Of all our teams, the only one that competes in Division I, men's ice hockey, has the highest grade point average among all men’s varsity sports. Our new conference shares that commitment to academic excellence. America East is third in the nation in athletic conferences in academic progress rate, behind only the Ivy and Patriot leagues.

Here are the next steps:

As part of our strategic plan, UMass Lowell 2020, our blueprint for progress in all areas, the University began an assessment of the intercollegiate athletics program last spring.  As a result of that review, the Athletics Committee recommended that UMass Lowell “begin aligning with its peer institutions and reclassify its Athletics Program to NCAA Division I.” The goal was to affiliate with other institutions that offered broad-based academic and athletics programs, excellent athletic facilities and the right geographic fit.

We didn’t expect the process to move quite as quickly as it did, but when the opportunity arose in America East, we realized we had found that match.

UMass Lowell will begin competing in 14 sports in Division I in the 2013-14 academic year, but will not be eligible for postseason play while it completes the four-year NCAA reclassification from Division II to Division I. The River Hawks will be full Division I members of America East in 2017-18.  UMass Lowell Hockey – currently ranked 14th in the country – will continue to compete in the prestigious Hockey East Conference.

With the exception of the Division I men’s ice hockey team, UMass Lowell has been a member of NCAA Division II since 1975 and a member of the Northeast-10 Conference since 2000. In the last 13 years, the River Hawks have made 104 NCAA post-season appearances, won two team national championships, had two individual national championships and a pair of national players of the year, one Olympian, won 59 conference championships, and had 214 All-Americans and 32 Academic All-Americans.

As a full member of America East, UMass Lowell, will join, in addition to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, the University at Albany, Binghamton University, University of Hartford, University of Maryland Baltimore County and Stony Brook University. In addition, Fairfield University and Providence College are associate members of America East in field hockey and volleyball, respectively. Boston University will depart America East for the Patriot League after this academic year.

We knew we were in the same league as these other renowned institutions of higher education in so many ways. Now, we will join them on the playing fields as well.