Dear UH System Faculty and Staff:
Last week, I completed four years as chancellor of the University of Houston System. Please allow me to thank you for your support in helping me lead one of the finest systems of higher education in the nation.
During the past four years, our system enrollment has grown from 56,000 to 65,000 students, annual degree production from 11,700 to 13,700, and annual fundraising from $53 million to more than $81 million.
Our four universities have opened new teaching sites in Pearland and Northwest Houston and have significantly increased their academic presence in Sugar Land. Our universities have also received many national accolades.
What is remarkable is that all of these accomplishments have come during a very difficult fiscal time when budgets were slashed and endowments were reduced. Needless to say, these accomplishments are the direct result of your leadership, hard work, and dedication. Please allow me to say that it has been, and continues to be, my honor and privilege to serve as a member of your team.
As much as I like to brag about these successes, I am constantly reminded that much still needs to be done. If you recall our UH System mission and vision, you will notice that our first and foremost commitment is to provide affordable access to diverse students from our region and the state. Texas is below the national average in the percentage of adults with a college degree, and the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board has asked us to close this gap. While all universities will not grow at the same rate, the UH System as a whole must maintain a serious commitment to provide access.
Access, however, is only half the story. No student ever comes to our universities planning to drop out. Students start having committed themselves to completing college. So we must also commit ourselves to helping students walk that extra mile they may need to fulfill their commitment. Our graduation rates must meet or exceed state and national benchmarks. Graduating students is not an option that we choose, but a commitment we make when we admit them. I urge you to create a culture of college completion at each of your campuses.
Serving our communities with our research and discovery is another commitment that we make. Each of our universities is recognized by the Carnegie Foundation as community-engaged institutions. That is a badge of honor of which very few higher education systems can boast. Our mission and vision call us to be the engines of economic and social growth for our communities. We do this not only by adding to the workforce, but also by engaging in research and discovery. I urge you to raise the bar on discovery and problem-solving within your own institutional context.
All of our universities are among the nation’s most ethnically diverse universities. All are serving a large number of first generation and international students. UH-Clear Lake and UH-Downtown are recognized as Hispanic-serving institutions. We have every reason to be proud of the difference we are able to make in the lives of so many.
To ensure that we can function as a cohesive system, I have been meeting with all presidents and senior system officials monthly. In addition, this November, I entrusted Dr. Marshall Schott with the responsibility of coordinating system-wide efforts. We have also created additional value for our institutions and students in some areas. For example, admission applications are now cross-referenced between universities, allowing us to find a home for all those who wish to earn a degree from a UH System university. Last fall, several thousand applications were transferred among universities. Similarly, students at any system university are now able to take up to six credit hours at another system university without any financial or academic penalty. I hope we will be able to create system value for our faculty, staff, and students in many other areas. You can expect to get periodic updates from Dr. Schott on system-level initiatives.
Two further items of particular interest to you are that the UH System Board of Regents will set tuition and fees at its March meeting and faculty/staff salaries at its May meeting.
Once again, please know how much I appreciate your dedication and hard work. It is an honor to be a member of your team! All the best year in 2012!
P.S. To read more about the importance of UH and the UH System to our community, please see my commentary in CultureMap.