In an inspiring speech before an enthusiastic audience at Moores Opera House, UH System Chancellor and UH President Renu Khator declared that success for the University of Houston is “critical to the city, and equally critical to the nation.”
“We have a responsibility to turn our diversity into strength and build a world-class university right here in Houston,” Khator said, drawing thunderous applause during her annual Fall Address. “It is our challenge, but it is also the source of our energy!”
Khator cited a series of daunting challenges facing America that demonstrate the University’s relevance to the nation. Among these are statistics showing:
- Only 39 percent of Americans have some form of post-secondary education, but, by 2018, 63 percent of jobs will require that credential
- Those born in the highest quartile of family income have an 85 percent likelihood of earning a college degree, but those born in the lowest quartile of family income have only an 8 percent likelihood of earning a degree
- For Hispanics, the likelihood of earning a college degree is 50 percent less than the population at large
“As disturbing as these trends are, they make us relevant to the nation,” Khator said. “Our diversity makes us a prototype… the University of Houston is today what other universities will be in 20 to 25 years.
“But we, the University of Houston, are not just diverse — we are also a Tier One university, nationally ranked in teaching, research and innovation,” Khator said.
Every day, she said, the University of Houston is proving that diversity and excellence are not mutually exclusive. Research is the differentiator for UH – it is what earned the University a place on the list of national Tier One universities. But, reiterating the no-excuse priority of student success she spelled out four years ago, Khator said, “we understood that without a credible student product, we could not be credible as a research university.”
The task of raising the student profile seemed nearly insurmountable four years ago, Khator said. But the contributions of each individual at the University helped move the needle for each of what she described are the four pillars of a powerful undergraduate experience: access, affordability, relevance and success.
The University now has 32 entering National Merit Scholars, compared to just three, six years ago. The incoming freshman class is “larger, stronger and more diverse than ever,” Khator said. Enrollment is up nearly 4 percent over last year, while semester credit hours are up by nearly 5 percent – indicating that more students are registering full time and understanding the value of entering the workforce as quickly as possible.
The power of one innovative program: UHin4 – the fixed four-year tuition and completion plan – alone will move the graduation rate above the national average, she said. “We are awarding more degrees than ever,” Khator said. “And, we are awarding them to students from historically underserved populations.”
To illustrate the University’s affordability, Khator noted the numerous national rankings that cite UH. “This year, we have added to the list a new recognition — a recognition by the White House in their first-ever rating system — as being a university that is low in cost, low in borrowing and low in student default rate,” she said.
Measured progress continues to fuel research at UH in four critical areas, Khator said, all related to knowledge: receiving funds to create new knowledge, sharing knowledge through publications, applying knowledge for the betterment of the society and helping to prepare new knowledge creators for the future.
“Our next defining moment in research will come, not from incremental growth, but from getting a large, federally funded national research center,” Khator said. “We have at least two areas of superior strength and readiness to compete for such a center: superconductivity and subsea engineering. In the coming years, we will aggressively compete in these areas, while continuing to invest in stellar programs of national prominence across various disciplines.”
The University’s upcoming “Powerhouse” branding campaign – which highlights innovation as the foundation and driving force of the University – will provide national and global audiences to the faculty’s research, ensuring the University of Houston becomes as well known outside the city as it is inside Houston, Khator said.
UH Health, one of Khator’s “big rock” areas of focus, remains in its infancy and will need nurturing, she said.
“In the coming years, we intend to implement the recommendations of the Health Workgroup, including a primary care clinic, expansion of pharmacy, doctor of nursing, doctor of physical therapy, a Ph.D. in Health Sciences, and down the road, a primary care, community-based medical school,” Khator said. “The recommendation of the Health Workgroup is to not duplicate anything currently available in Houston, but to build upon it and focus entirely on community-based research and training.”
Similarly, UH Arts, also a Khator “big rock,” is moving forward, with plans in place to implement recommendations of the Arts Workgroup to establish a College of the Arts.
“Let’s remind ourselves again that Tier One is a journey,” Khator said. “The road ahead is full of challenges that are serious because the landscape of higher education itself is changing more rapidly than ever. We have to remain relevant and provide value for our work, whether it is in the area of teaching or research or service.”