Message from Leroy Hermes

July 23, 2007

Editor’s note:

The Houston Chronicle recently published an article regarding the University of Houston’s enrollment. The following opinion editorial piece, which has been submitted to the newspaper, addresses the issues noted in the story and the questions and comments posed by readers on the Chronicle’s online blog.


Houston, we have an opportunity.

The University of Houston is 80 years young, and has been a state university for just over 40 years. In its short history it has educated leaders for Houston, for Texas, and for the nation; and it has been home to many important scientific discoveries. We are flexible, aspiring to be even better, and determined to make this university a world-class asset for Houston and Texas. While we are changing, we find that sometimes it is a tough task to wrestle to the ground old, outdated impressions.

Today’s University of Houston is not your father’s or your grandmother’s university. We are the state’s next flagship university. We are being more selective in our admission standards. We are enhancing our academic and research programs. And we are changing our physical presence thanks to a new master plan that will result in a significant increase in resident students. Over the next twenty years, our alumni from past decades will hardly recognize us.

As Houston Chronicle reporter Matt Tresaugue’s article outlined earlier last week, along with these changes has come a temporary enrollment dip. But there is more to the enrollment story than a decrease in the number of students.

The good news is that the number of UH freshmen in the top quartile of their high school graduating class has gone up more than 10 percent in the last few years. Our freshman applications are not only increasing, but also coming from across the state at a much higher level than five years ago. Recent high school graduates are seeing the University of Houston as a competitive university and a place with top programs and opportunities. As we raise our requirements, some students choose to go to other area universities and community colleges, returning to UH to complete their final two years. They are a strong and welcome addition to our student body.

I read the comments at the end of Mr. Tresaugue’s online story with great interest, and I appreciate the number of Houstonians who took time to offer their support and to suggest areas of improvement for the University of Houston. It is worth noting a few of the issues the online readers raised.

Campus Safety: UH is safer than many college campuses across the state and country, and experiences fewer crimes each year than the Galleria area. We work hard to ensure everyone’s safety with more than 300 monitored cameras across the campus, new lighting, increased foot and bicycle patrols, and emergency call boxes in every parking area.

Tuition: As a taxpayer and a regent, I am passionate about keeping costs as low as possible for our students. The Texas Legislature has determined that each university’s governing board should set tuition for their respective institutions in order to build the higher education resources needed by the state’s growing population. As a growing research university, we are strengthening our academic programs, and students are helping make that happen through tuition and fees. We work very hard to minimize increases and to identify new scholarship funding whenever we have a tuition increase.

Getting to Campus and Parking: We are partnering with Metro to bring increased bus and future rail services directly to campus. We opened our first multi-story parking garage last year and have another one on the books to open in 2008.

Bringing the University to the Student: We are working with suburban communities to bring our educational programs to outlying areas of Houston. We currently offer degree programs at Sugar Land, Cinco Ranch, and the Woodlands. Our attempt to bring UH to the Northwest area was temporarily stalled, but we are working diligently with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to bring degree programs to this burgeoning area.

Infrastructure and Administrative Issues: Many of the comments from readers indicated that our faculty members are held in high esteem. And a number of readers pointed out the dedication of many UH staff members. Nonetheless, the need for increased support for advising, financial aid, admissions, and other key student service areas is one we take very seriously. The Welcome Center, which opened last fall, was a first step in bringing enrollment and student services together in a customer-friendly setting. We will continue to find ways to improve these critical areas.

UH has come further and faster than any other university in the country. The bar is raised and the new University of Houston is under construction. Today’s UH students and programs are more highly competitive than those of five years ago. If you believe you can compete at the new University of Houston, we are building something here that we hope you will investigate with a fresh pair of eyes: Houston, we have a new UH.

As chairman of the Board of Regents, I want to say this to prospective students, parents, teachers, and guidance counselors: as with some Texas universities, we are experiencing an enrollment lull that many experts think is partially caused by the vibrant Houston economy and the availability of jobs. But the most important story at the University of Houston has to do with our progress and evolution.

Look around and count the building cranes on the UH campus—they’re putting up a residence hall adding 1,000 new beds on campus, a new business school classroom building, a second architecture building, additional parking structures, and that is just the beginning—the word at UH is new, and changing.

So Houston, send us all the bright young people you have. Send us students who want to experience a traditional campus life. Send us students who are young married parents, working in a bank or a business and wanting to get ahead with an MBA at hours that work for them. Send us every waiter and part-time worker in town with a passion for learning and a desire to become the first in their family to finish college. And send us your National Merit Scholars who are looking for an education second to none. We have a place for each and every one of them on a UH campus undergoing a moment of profound transformation guided by a master plan and a set of strategic goals that call for raising the bar for everyone who can make their way to this campus.

We are forging a University of Houston to meet the needs of an ambitious city and state. It is an ongoing process for there is never an end to the building of a great university and, in this case, the building of a great flagship university for Texas right here in Houston. We invite you to be part of our success story.

Leroy Hermes, Chairman
UH System Board of Regents