University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler sketched an optimistic, confident picture of the institution during his annual State of the University address Thursday — his last before he steps down this summer.

He touted accomplishments during his eight years at the U and reflected on a few regrets. Kaler is leaving the post a year before his contract was set to expire, but he is slated to stay on for a year of fundraising and later will join the faculty.

"I believe this University is a better place for students, faculty and staff than it was in 2011," he said during the speech on the Twin Cities campus.

Kaler pointed to a 17 percent increase in the U's four-year graduation rate and his efforts to arrest sharp increases in tuition that preceded his tenure, which kept tuition hikes below the rate of inflation. He noted the U is poised to cross the $1 billion mark in external research funding it draws. The university launched 130 startups on his watch and raised $3.3 billion for scholarships, research and more as part of the U's ongoing "Driven" campaign.

Kaler also highlighted efforts to strengthen the U's medical school by overhauling its partnership with Fairview Health Services.

But Kaler also acknowledged that while the university has made progress in recruiting and serving students of color, much work remains, with black students making up only 6 percent of the student body and achievement gaps persisting.

Among his regrets, Kaler listed the university's handling of calls to revisit the 2004 death of Dan Markingson, who committed suicide while taking part in a U clinical trial. The university under Kaler at first resisted calls to reinvestigate the case before an outside review vindicated critics. Kaler also spoke of efforts to grapple with sexual misconduct on campus under his prevention initiative.

He also addressed renaming buildings, efforts to attract out-of-state students despite marked hikes in nonresident tuition, the U system's relationship with outstate campuses and other issues.

Mila Koumpilova • 612-673-4781