State of The University 2011
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is my honor to reflect on the state of our University and on the main challenges that lie before us.
The current state of our University is outstanding. We are setting records in just about everything positive.
Let me share with you a couple of stories. The first, relayed to me by our provost, Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, concerns an aspiring undergraduate dreaming of becoming a doctor. This young man applied to several leading medical schools, and then the waiting began. One, the University of Michigan, informed him that an email would be sent at midnight on a certain date notifying those accepted. Waiting next to his computer as the designated midnight hour drew near, he was startled by a knock on his apartment door. Outside stood a Michigan recruiter holding a banner reading: “Michigan wants you!” This UT Dallas student was one of only a few in the nation to receive this special pitch from the UM medical school—treatment it reserves for the most promising among its applicants.
This story says a lot about who we are as a University and what we value. We’re not a diploma mill. We graduate truly distinguished and distinctive men and women.
My second story comes from Steven Rosson, former Student Government president. A friend of Steven’s arrived early for class and couldn’t find a parking space, despite cruising the lots repeatedly. A police officer noticed and asked the student what he was doing, and the student explained. The officer found an open parking space and flagged down the student, who was able to park and make it to class in time.
This is only one example of something I notice again and again: Our staff members go above and beyond to help out our students. Our staff members care, and they show it. I am extremely proud of our UT Dallas family. My heartfelt gratitude goes to all our employees for a job well done.
Let me now turn to the academic year under way and address five areas that warrant particular focus:
- Management of growth.
- Improvement of student retention and graduation.
- Improvement of affordability and productivity.
- Improvement of diversity.
- Demonstration of excellence and national leadership.
We are growing rapidly, and that creates stress—crowded classrooms, packed parking lots and more work for everyone. To successfully manage this, we will begin moderating growth in enrollment, continue increasing the number of faculty members, expand our facilities and infrastructure, and strengthen staff size and support. We need to ensure that we’re organized properly to be able to continue to scale up. We are moving forward with the next phase of PeopleSoft operations. And we need to keep in mind our eventual goal of becoming a vibrant destination by offering cultural enrichment and entertainment near our campus.
Enrollment has risen steadily over the past decade, as shown in this chart. This fall, UT Dallas enrolled 18,864 on-campus students. When non-resident and on-line students are added to the count, we topped 19,000 students, which is up 10.1 percent over last year. UT Dallas experienced the largest enrollment increase of any four-year public university in Texas this year.
Our challenge is to moderate growth. We cannot hire faculty or expand space at this pace. We need to strive for 4 percent to 5 percent enrollment growth per year, which is still an aggressive pace of expansion. Our provost, working with deans and our recruiting staff, will carefully consider and implement adjustments to sustain manageable expansion. At the same time, we need to maintain momentum, and keep the interest of the rapidly rising number of high-quality applicants to UT Dallas.
The size of our tenured and tenure-track faculty continues to grow, from 446 last fall to 459 now. This increase of 3 percent is a little less than hoped for. The provost continues to support aggressive, targeted recruiting. Both the provost and I believe that quality trumps everything else. It is our highest priority in faculty recruitment.
Last year, we saw many new projects started and completed, and more are planned this year. This slide shows six: a new 400-bed residence hall, renovation in the Student Union, renovation in the Research and Operations Center, initiation of construction on a new Arts and Technology Building; completion of the Visitor Center and Bookstore; and construction of new soccer fields. Our Board of Regents recently approved a $25 million expansion to our School of Management building.
Projects on the drawing board include a request to our Board of Regents for possible action later this week to approve a 600-bed residence hall, a second dining facility, more recreational space, and two parking garages. Speaking of parking, we are pursuing the possibility of constructing additional surface parking to address immediate needs.
The number of staff is increasing as the University grows. Our challenge is to assure that as additional people are hired they bring the right skill sets, and that we provide them with the supporting tools that they need.
We must keep in mind several additional aspects to growth management. One issue that concerns me is whether all units within our University are prepared to facilitate continued growth. I am going to ask every dean and leader of every administrative unit to consider carefully whether their units are organized appropriately to scale up to support an even larger university.
The PeopleSoft implementation has presented many challenges. No one involved would say that it has gone as well as we had hoped. If we had it to do all over again, we would do some things differently. I apologize to you, our valued faculty and staff members, who have struggled to accomplish your work, only to be frustrated by a system that has not always met our needs. At the same time, I want to recognize the hard work of the people addressing this challenge. They are persevering to bring us a system that works, and I appreciate their unwavering diligence. I know in time it will work well.
The issue before us is to move to the next phase of operations and management in a way that gets us to our goal as quickly and effectively as possible, in a sustainable manner. I am currently reviewing those next steps.
A continuing issue of concern is the lack of an exciting off-campus environment with shops, entertainment, and cultural alternatives for students and staff. I have asked Dr. Calvin Jamison, our head of business affairs, to accelerate efforts to find private partners who might develop land to create a University Village. With our growth comes a heightened sense of urgency to address this need.
The second area of major focus is student retention and graduation. No issue this year has received more attention at the level of the UT System or among our Regents than this one. This metric—which only those of us inside the University used to worry about—has even attracted the attention of the popular press.
This issue intersects with goals we are already pursuing. We were already focused on improving retention, shortening time to degree, and improving graduation rates. But there is more we can do.
Although most of our incoming students are highly qualified, we need to think further about refining admission criteria to optimize the likelihood of graduation. Crucial aspects to maximizing student success include advising, early intervention for struggling students and engagement of faculty members and our schools in giving high priority to student success. We must recognize and reward outstanding teaching and faculty excellence, and ensure that technology is used to help achieve our goals.
Our freshman class keeps getting larger while maintaining high academic standards. I am especially pleased that this year we increased the average SAT score, which was already very strong, and number of National Merit Scholars, even as the overall size of the freshman class grew by a remarkable 30 percent.
This figure depicts our retention and graduation rates for the past several years, and our minimum goals through 2017. The best public research universities in America have retention rates of about 90 percent. There is no reason we should not achieve similar rates. Our retention rate, which has steadily improved over the past few years, slipped slightly to 83 percent this year. I am concerned and have asked the provost to work with deans and the academic team to get us back on course for continued improvement.
The four- and six-year graduation rates reflect the performance of students who enter UT Dallas as freshmen. Our four-year graduation rate rose this year to 45 percent. While this is one of the highest graduation rates in Texas, I give very high priority to improving further.
UT Dallas has a long and successful history of accepting and graduating community college transfer students. Our 4-, 5-, and 6-year graduation rates in this group hover in the range of 60 to 70 percent. Though the rates are good, the trend is flat. Graduation rates must improve.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Legislature are considering possible strategies for funding public universities on the basis of outcomes, such as the number of degrees awarded.
Nearly everyone recognizes Texas’ need to produce more college-educated adults, and we are producing more baccalaureate degrees. We are also being asked, quite appropriately, to address the special challenge of educating at-risk students and graduating people in critical fields, which include areas such as engineering, computer science, and nursing.
We are increasing degrees awarded to at-risk students. I expect an upturn in degrees awarded in critical fields over the next several years as a result of growth in our biological sciences, computer science, and engineering programs.
Annual production of undergraduate degrees has been increasing over the past several years. Students who transfer to UT Dallas earn the majority of undergraduate degrees awarded, although growth in degrees produced is primarily because of increased enrollment of new freshmen.
Revised state funding models are likely to reward those who produce graduates, not those who just enroll students. If we recruit well, retain well, advise well, provide an outstanding campus experience, inspire our students, and continue to provide an exceptionally rigorous and high-quality education, our performance will be excellent and the funding will follow.
Our production of doctoral degrees continues to rise steadily. A production rate of at least 200 PhDs per year is the minimum to qualify for the state’s National Research University Fund, which will provide additional dollars to UT Dallas when we qualify.
Graduate student enrollment increased by 11.5 percent this year. Most of that growth was in Engineering and Computer Science as well as Management, with significant growth in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) as well. It is no accident that the growth is larger in schools with strong national reputations – our highly ranked Naveen Jindal School of Management and its MBA program, our strongly ranked Eric Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, and BBS with powerhouse programs in audiology and speech language pathology and rapidly ascending programs in BrainHealth, Vital Longevity, and other areas.
I am confident that our Arts and Technology program, with major investments in new people and the new ATEC building, will continue to experience growth and ascendency in national reputation. We are enjoying strong international visibility in several program areas within Natural Sciences and Mathematics, such as nanotechnology. Our programs in Economic, Political, and Policy Sciences are already very well populated with healthy graduate enrollments. The master’s students earning degrees in Interdisciplinary Studies are among our most well-rounded students working on some of society’s most important issues. And, of course, this school is home to our extremely important teacher development program.
The two issues that concern me about our graduate programs are, first, expanding the faculty size and facilities in line with the growth rate of our graduate student body, and second, improving the graduation rate for PhD students. This latter issue is very important. I have tasked the provost with recommending steps that will lead to further improvement.
Texas has made national headlines in a debate that has raged over productivity in our public universities. There isn’t much disagreement over the need to improve productivity, to be more efficient and to make college as affordable for Texans as possible. The disagreement is primarily over what to measure and how to incentivize the desired outcome.
I have my own views about these matters, which I shared with my fellow members of the UT System Task Force on University Excellence and Productivity. I won’t recount my input to that process, but I will share several strongly held views:
- At UT Dallas, we are not afraid to innovate or to try new approaches.
- We acknowledge that we must be an even better and more productive institution.
- Research is inseparable from the educational mission of the University.
- The real academic work of the University is done at the faculty, department and school level. The role of higher administration is to encourage, monitor, support, and report on the results of faculty- and department-level efforts.
Several years ago we implemented an innovative and perhaps somewhat risky tuition policy that guarantees all new students four years of fixed tuition and fees. Further, we implemented the Comet Connection program for community college students. The program allows students to sign up at UT Dallas, lock in a guaranteed tuition rate, attend a community college, and transfer to UT Dallas and pay the tuition rate that was locked in when they signed up. To my knowledge, we are the only university in the nation with such a program. Our tuition strategy has worked well for us and I plan to recommend that we continue it.
The tricky part of achieving improved productivity is maintaining quality. We could easily reduce cost and increase degree production – all we would have to do is keep admitting more students, not hire any new faculty, and churn out degrees. We won’t do this because quality is everything to us. The key to improving productivity is to do a better job of retaining students, helping them to succeed, and graduating them. Student success is the key to improving productivity.
There are many tools that we can employ to improve student success. For example, more peer instruction in our critical undergraduate gateway courses, reduced class size in crucial courses such as first-year mathematics, use of software tools to aid advisors, early and improved intervention for students at risk, offering even more out-of-class opportunities for socialization and interaction, blended on-line learning, and others.
I believe that real improvement comes from the bottom up, at the department and school level, not from the top down. The UT System has established a framework for improving excellence and productivity, and will likely implement reporting tools such as a dashboard. Strengthened review of people, programs, and units can be helpful not only at the local level, but to the central administration, as well.
One of the trends at our University, and probably every public university in America, is a shifting of the responsibility for paying for the college from the state to the student.
In 1991, most of our operating funds came from the state, whereas today they mostly come from tuition and fees. In fiscal year 1991, for every dollar that a student or his or her family paid in tuition, the state of Texas provided $4.23 to operate the University. The state’s contribution has declined over time. This year, fiscal 2012, for every dollar that a student or the student’s family pays in tuition, the state provides 41 cents to operate the University. Next year, we expect that to drop to 37 cents.
We are a tuition-funded, state-assisted institution.
The most wildly optimistic projection that I can offer is that state funding will not be reduced further. Instead, I predict that the trends of the past two decades will continue and that the fraction of our core operating budget covered by the state will be even less in the future.
What does this mean for us? Mainly, it means that students and parents, as they pay more, are going to expect more – from personal attention, to quality facilities, to readily available classes. I don’t blame them for expecting more as they pay more. That’s human nature, and I’m confident that we’re up to the challenge of providing an even better UT Dallas experience.
One of the criticisms that I have heard about public higher education in America is that costs are spiraling out of control. Nothing could be further from the truth at UT Dallas. I’ll show you why.
The green line on this chart shows the per-student state appropriation from fiscal year 2000 through the current year, FY 2012. As you can see, annual state funding per student has declined, from $7,359 in 2000 to $5,851 this year. The blue line shows how our tuition and required academic fees have changed over this same period. Tuition and fees more than doubled, from $5,365 to $12,577 per student per year. This is the number that students and parents see and feel right in the pocketbook. To them, tuition has skyrocketed.
Now, let me add those two lines together, which produces the yellow line on the chart. The sum of tuition and fees, as well as state funding, provides the total pot of dollars that we have available to operate the core functions of the University. This is the number that I notice the most – the dollars that I have to run the University. Please note that I’m not including externally funded research, student services such as recreational sports, or auxiliary functions such as residence halls and dining services. This is just the core funding to hire professors, pay teaching assistants, employ academic and support staff, keep the electricity and air conditioning on, and administer the institution.
From 2000 to 2012, the core operating budget of the University increased from $12,724 to $18,429 per student per year, which is a 45 percent increase. Over 12 years, this works out to an average annual increase of 3.1 percent.
Let me emphasize that number. Over the past 12 years, the total cost of running the core operations of the University has increased an average of 3.1 percent per year. This is hardly run-away cost increase.
The last line on the graph, the orange one, takes the annual operating cost of $12,724 per student per year in 2000 and inflates it each year by the U.S. government’s consumer price index, or CPI, which is a measure of the core inflation rate. The rising cost of fuel, groceries, services and the like drive the CPI. UT Dallas is not immune to this type of inflation. In fact, our inflation is worse because in higher education, competition for the very best faculty members is becoming more fierce, not less so. Organizations that are labor intensive, like universities, also feel greater inflation pressure from the rapidly rising cost of health insurance.
In some of the past dozen years, our total per-student annual operating cost trended below the CPI adjusted cost line, and in the past couple of years, it’s trended just above the CPI-adjusted operating cost.
That means that over the past 12 years, our total expenses to operate the University have increased more-or-less in accord with the general inflation rate of the nation, as measured by CPI. The operating cost increases have not been exorbitant. Indeed, they have pretty much tracked with the CPI inflation rate.
While I am very proud of the fact that we have contained costs at UT Dallas, we cannot escape the reality that reductions in state funding and inflation have caused very large increases in tuition. This is one reason we have a four-year fixed tuition – we can’t make tuition cheap and maintain quality, but we can make tuition predictable. We also offer our community college connection as an alternative to enhance affordability. Our challenge, in a nutshell, is to do all that we can to control costs and maintain quality, and to make our institution accessible to qualified Texans.
Private support is more important than ever, which is why we have emphasized it so much. We’ve had two record years of private fund raising in a row. Most importantly, the trend is up in a sustainable way. One of the keys to ensuring student access to UT Dallas is providing more dollars for student scholarships and fellowships.
I’d like to change gears and speak for a moment about diversity.
We must recruit an increasingly diverse, high-quality student body and faculty if we are to meet the state’s critical challenges. Our task breaks down into five categories: the freshman class, transfer students, PhD students, faculty, and our leadership. On that last note, as we recruit department leaders, deans, directors, and senior administrators, we must seek a diverse group of leaders to inform our decision making with a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives, and to serve as role models for others.
Every year in this address, I update you on how we’re doing on improving diversity. This slide shows the change in the diversity of the freshman class from last year. Remember that we had a huge increase in the size of this class: up 30 percent. My main concerns are the slight decrease in new African-American freshmen and the very modest growth in Hispanic freshmen.
Diversity among our undergraduate transfer students is stronger than in our freshman class and is improving. Transfer students are important to us for many reasons, including strengthening the diversity of our student body.
I have the greatest concerns regarding diversity among our tenured and tenure-track faculty. To our faculty, provost, and deans, I say, we must do better. I will be rethinking how to encourage faculty recruiting oriented toward strengthening diversity. In the meantime, I’ll say the following to faculty and deans: find highly qualified faculty candidates who will enhance our diversity and meet important needs of the University, and bring them to the attention of the provost and me. You can count on my budgetary and salary support, and personal assistance in convincing well-qualified candidates to join UT Dallas.
The fifth and final area that commands particular attention in the coming year is demonstrating excellence and national leadership.
We have crafted a well-thought-out and vetted strategic plan, supported by a strong business plan, to evolve into a major, nationally competitive, Tier One research university. At the rate we’re progressing, that’s going to happen sooner than projected.
To accomplish these goals, we must continue to emphasize and support our major research centers and clusters. Because so many of the most important discoveries and advancements are at the boundaries between traditional disciplines, we must continue to foster interdisciplinary efforts in both education and research. Ideas that embrace this spirit are especially well-received in my office. Big ideas are highly encouraged, so when you develop one, bring it forward and let’s brainstorm together.
Our partnership with UT Southwestern Medical Center is more important than ever. So many discoveries and advances are taking place at the intersections of medicine, science, engineering, and business. Institutions that can lead in those advances will be among the foremost in the nation. That’s the space we strive to occupy jointly with UT Southwestern.
The world is a more globally competitive place than ever. I don’t want our country or our graduates competing on the basis of being the lowest wage economy. Our competitive strength needs to be based in having the most creative ideas, and possessing the executional strength to develop businesses and jobs around those ideas. Innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity are among the most prized attributes of our graduates and our faculty. Let us not forget the very special role that great research universities play in assembling the building blocks that produce human creative genius.
We’re working hard to tell our story better. I continue to view the role of president not only as CEO of the University and chief resource-gatherer, but also as head cheerleader and advocate.
But I need your help: please think strategically about good things happening on campus that may be of interest to others, and let our Office of Communications know. Better yet, let them know what’s coming before it happens, and they can help shape the happening into an even better communications opportunity.
Be ready when you are asked by the communications office to speak on behalf of our institution. Your expertise, experience, and knowledge have the potential to explain or make news in important areas, and in doing so, to demonstrate the value of our work to a broader audience than just our campus community.
Total research expenditures for the year topped $93 million, another record year. This growth in research expenditures has exceeded what I thought was possible just a few years ago. Hats off to our extraordinary faculty and research staff.
But let’s keep in mind that research takes place in all corners of the institution, including places where there is no external funding. Human creative genius can sprout and flourish anywhere, with or without external funding, and we value it all.
Our University has enjoyed many outstanding years, but none more exceptional than the one just completed. I’m confident that I’ll be able to say the same thing a year from now, thanks to you, our students, staff members, and faculty. It is my great privilege and honor to serve as your president, and I pledge to continue to do my very best to advance excellence. Thank you!
Updated: November 10, 2011