Each year, I deliver a Fall Address assessing the state of the University of Houston. Although this is done in the spirit of transparency and shared governance, I consider it a pleasure as much as a responsibility. It provides a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge our University’s collective accomplishments and the common goals we share.
This year’s address – my sixth since coming to UH – was certainly no exception. I was reminded of what a blessing it is to travel on this journey of transforming a great University into a greater one.
One topic close to my heart is our transformation of the undergraduate experience, building on the pillars of access, affordability, relevance and success. We are awarding more degrees than ever before, and our one-year retention rate (from freshman to sophomore) has reached the nationally competitive level. In fact, we have now surpassed the average of national universities, recognized by U.S. News & World Report, and are closing in on the average of public Tier One universities.
Reflecting the steady enhancement of our academic environment, our entering freshmen, the Class of 2018, are more numerous, academically stronger and more diverse than ever before.
- The average SAT is 1143.
- There are 32 National Merit Scholars (compared to three in 2008).
- 96 percent are enrolled full-time, with 69 percent enrolling in 15 credit hours or more.
- 47 percent have chosen to live on campus.
Although our graduation rate is still not where we want it, significant improvement is underway. Even if nothing else were to change, the new UHin4 program – with fixed four-year tuition rates and University-guided completion plans – will move our graduation rate above the national average. This is the power of one program. Just imagine the combined effect of everything we have initiated on campus!
Perhaps the most telling statistic is the largest.
• Our enrollment, after taking a dip last year as a result of recent changes such as new admissions standards, is back on its upward trajectory. It is up by nearly 4 percent, with nearly 41,000 students enrolled. But more importantly, semester credit hours are up by nearly 5 percent – indicating more students understand the value of completing their degrees on time and getting into the workforce early.
“We are awarding more degrees than ever before, and our one-year retention rate (from freshman to sophomore) has reached the nationally competitive level.”
Just as our improving first-year retention rate is an indicator of future student performance, the submission of proposals suggests what we can expect in upcoming research performance. Thanks to strategic hiring of faculty and a growing emphasis of cross-disciplinary projects, there has been a dramatic shift in our submission rate:
- Research proposals have increased, in dollar amounts, by nearly 50 percent in the past fiscal year, from $508 million in 2013 to an astounding $734 million this year.
Looking forward, however, our next defining moment in research at UH will come from acquiring a large, federally funded national research center. Right now, we have at least two areas of superior strength to compete for such a center: superconductivity and subsea engineering. We are committed to aggressively competing in both areas.
Of course, our plans depend in large part on the level of support we receive from the community.
- Our fundraising efforts broke another record this year, with $126.7 million … making this the third year in a row to reach a higher mark. What could be a better vote of confidence in the direction of our University than that? With every gift, our alumni and other donors are making UH a better place in which to live and to learn.
There is so much more that excites and encourages me …
- Plans to expand our UH Health initiatives to include a primary care clinic on campus; doctoral programs in nursing, physical therapy and health sciences; and, down the road, a community-based medical school.
- The creation of a new College of Arts.
- The launch of a dynamic “Welcome to the Powerhouse” branding campaign that emphasizes innovation as our University’s driving force. For a preview, please see the following two pages.
Our commitment to student success is a no-excuse priority. We were founded on the promise of making education accessible to the average working-class man and woman. Our dreams and aspirations are testimony that they deserve more than the average, they deserve the best. At UH, that is our challenge … and the source of our energy!
President, University of Houston