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North Texas LEAD Board Meeting

March 30, 2016


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Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the University of Texas at Arlington.  Let me thank my colleague Dr. Mickey McCabe who serves as the Executive Director of the UTA Research Institute for serving as our host today.  UTARI is a unique facility, linking the academic research at UTA with our corporate partners and ensures that through various facets of the University we provide a continuum of research and development activities from the very fundamental through the more applied to actual product development. 

From being designated a Center of Excellence by the National League of Nursing, one of only two in Texas, to three additional members of our faculty being named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors bringing our number to 13—the second highest of any university in the nation and over one-third of those in Texas, to our recent designation in the elite group of R-1 Doctoral Universities—Highest Research Activity in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education—the definitive list for the top doctoral research universities in the nation, our reputation is on the rise.

It’s been about a year since the Board of Regents enthusiastically endorsed UTA’s new Strategic Plan “Bold Solutions – Global Impact” With the plan in place, we now have a clear focus and a set of well defined goals with metrics and targets which serve to both assess progress and identify changes that might need to be made as we progress.

Over the next 10-15 minutes, I hope to be able to brief you on where we are today, how far we’ve come since you last envisaged UTA, describe some of the progress being made by our tremendous faculty, staff, and students, and mention some plans for the near and not too distant future. 

As an urban university, we believe that it is our mission to meet the challenges facing our community with vision and leadership, ensuring that the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington megacity of the future will be one that addresses critical issues prior to their overwhelming the area. 

As we plan for the University of the future, we envision one that flourishes without silos, that embraces collaboration, that builds on our geographic location at the center of one of this nation’s fastest growing metropolitan areas, takes advantage of its location next to a major airline hub and gateway to the globe, and that will serve as the model 21st century urban research university – an urban flagship with global reach and impact.

(Focus and Structure) The plan is based on 4 levels of input, assessment and the impetus for implementation.  A single focus provides context for engagement and impact.  Four guiding themes provide strategic areas of emphasis that cross disciplinary bounds.  Six guiding aspirations direct our progress.  Six areas of operational priority provide broad logistical direction for the University.  Details on these, as well as the progress being made, can be found on a specially designed website and I hope you’ll log in to learn more about these exciting developments.

(Guiding Themes) Building on the strengths of our faculty across all colleges and focusing on the goal of enabling a sustainable megacity our progress is structured around 4 critical themes

  • Health and the Human Condition
  • Sustainable Urban Communities
  • Global Environmental Impact, and
  • Data Driven Discovery

UTA is focusing on health and the human condition from distinct yet broadly encompassing vantage points. We explore health management within physical, mental, emotional, and social contexts, with health innovations being distinguished by diagnostic, prognostic, and technological advancements that help people live longer, healthier, and happier lives. In order to enhance the focus we established a new College of Nursing and Health Innovation.  Together with faculty such as Li Ping Tang in Bioengineering who is pioneering work in bone regeneration with Joe Borelli at THR as well as the development of artificial lymph nodes to attract cancer cells from around the body to a single point just as a magnet attracts metal to enable treatment to be focused without damaging tissue and organs, our faculty are focused on advances in materials, nanotechnology, imaging and robotics that will change our lives for the better.

UTA is fostering sustainable urban communities through a focus on the natural, built, economic, cultural, and social environments. We have combined our highly reputed Schools of Architecture and Urban and Public Affairs to ensure this interaction leading to the founding of a new college – CAPPA – the College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs ensuring that our students learn about architecture, design, planning and policy.  Learning from the past and present to ensure a sustainable future, our faculty are also developing an understanding and interpreting demographic change and the broad spectrum of human capital.

With the world’s population exceeding 7 billion, there is need to become more environmentally efficient to better manage our shrinking water supply, clean the air we breathe, reduce our carbon footprint, and protect our biodiversity.  UTA is addressing critical issues that affect our planet, including climate change, energy, water, disasters, and pollution through the work of faculty such as Kevin Schug, Dan Armstrong and Sandy Das Gupta in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, D.J. Seo, Melanie Sattler and Sahadat Hossein in Civil Engineering, and others across our Colleges. 

The exponential growth and availability of big data presents numerous challenges and opportunities. It is voluminous, fast, increasingly complex, and comes in a range of formats. If managed effectively, big data can deliver powerful benefits. UTA is focused on research that integrates big data from specific fields and is developing data analytics and science that explores information from a wide variety of sources. We will use data to discover and share new knowledge, as well as enhance current knowledge.

(Key Advances in Health Sciences) While I would like nothing more than to talk at length about each area, time precludes this and so I’ll just let you glance at some of the research being conducted in a single theme area related to Health Sciences by faculty from the College of Engineering, College of Nursing and Health Innovation, College of Science and UTARI. 

All these are based on significant external funding from extremely competitive agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging and the Office of Naval Research.  From the development of computational models to understand battlefield blast induced damage to neurons and the effect of shock waves on injuries to the brain to the development of bioengineered smart gloves for regenerative healing of extremity trauma our faculty are not only creating new knowledge through enquiry but also translating discovery into innovation.

(Student Diversity) For the third year in a row, UTA ranks fifth among national universities for undergraduate diversity. We are also focusing on increasing diversity at the graduate level, and our student population represents almost every state in the US and over 100 countries globally. 

Our campus population mirrors the demographic trends of the region and this provides us a tremendous opportunity to set new standards for excellence in diversity and inclusion. While we are a welcoming campus there is still a lot of ground to be covered as related to enabling access and students success, as well as in ensuring that our students see role models for themselves in our faculty and administration.

As we progress along our Strategic Plan, our enrollment continues to grow as well.  We had the largest spring enrollment in history: 38,650 students residing in Texas for purposes of education, a 5.8 percent increase over last Spring and 4.4 percent over that of Fall.  Adding in degree seeking students in our on line programs, our global enrollment count is currently higher than 51,000 and is expected to pass 55,000 by the end of this academic year.  Enrollment in the College of Education, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and the School of Social Work continues to increase, highlighting our growing reputation and ability to meet the workforce and intellectual needs of the Metroplex and nation. 

It may be of interest to look at our growth in comparison to targets set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and those set in our Strategic Plan, both of which have been exceeded during this academic year.  We anticipated a growth rate of about 3.6 percent annually as part of the Strategic Plan, which would result in a population of about 43,000 students reported to THECB in Fall 2020.  Assuming a sustained level of 5.5 percent, which is the average over the past three years, the expected enrollment would be 48,368.  I note that the quality of our incoming students is extremely high, with 23.9 percent being ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class and 58.6 percent being ranked in the top 25 percent.

As you know, we have a set of strong, and nation-leading online programs that were initiated some years ago in the then College of Nursing and have now been expanded to other Colleges as well.
(Online Enrollment Growth Trends) Our enrollments in these programs have been growing significantly since the 12-13 academic year and we ended the 2014-15 academic year with a global degree seeking enrollment of 52,215 students. 

Consider that through mechanisms of digital learning, UTA educates 64 percent of all RN-to-BSN students in Texas and produces 54 percent of all RN-to-BSN nursing graduates.  Trends using three rates of growth – 10 percent, which would be extremely low, 15 percent, which represents a conservative estimate, and 18.7 percent, which represents the average over the past three years, show that if handled appropriately, our online population in AY 19-20 could be larger than the current in-seat population. 

These projections indicate that by 2020, if we continue to grow, we could pass 80,000 students making us the largest educational institution in the state and one of the largest in the country, all while we continue to rise in reputation for excellence.

(Student Success) The culminating success of a student’s academic career is measured by graduation and in the 2014-15 academic year we conferred 10,585 degrees, placing us third in the state in the generation of highly skilled intellectual capital behind UT Austin and Texas A&M, both of which have about double the number of schools and colleges as we do. What is even more remarkable is that our very high level of excellence comes at a significantly low cost to the state.  According to THECB data, Texas A&M and UT Austin receive $74,752 and $72,469 in-state appropriations, respectively, per full time faculty equivalent in comparison to $56,360 at UTA.  In terms of students the comparisons are even more stark—Texas A&M receives $6,947 and UT Austin receives $8,163 per full time student equivalent while UTA receives $4,909—70 percent that of A&M and 60 percent that of UT Austin.  Our operating expenses per full time student equivalent are also significantly lower, 61 percent that of Texas A&M and 37 percent that of UT Austin. 

We hear a lot regarding the cost of an education and I’m proud to state that at UTA the cost of a degree as a function of state allocations has gone down 48.2 percent since 2003 and if looked at as a function of total revenue, which includes tuition, it’s down 8.2 percent over the same time period. Affordability, efficiency, and excellence can go hand in hand.

(New Degrees) It must be noted, however, that sustained growth will not occur unless we continuously focus on identifying and meeting the needs of our community we serve and in line with national and international workforce trends.  We have done this over the past two years through the implementation of two new degrees in Construction Management and Architectural Engineering and are awaiting permission to add two more this fall – a BS in Construction Management, which will meet the tremendous need for highly skilled engineering project managers in the Metroplex and across Texas and for doctoral-qualified kinesiologists trained in interprofessional skills.  A series of additional degrees including professional degrees in science at the Master’s-degree level, much needed degrees in education, counseling and educational leadership, and online degrees, are currently being developed and we hope to launch some of these soon.  As we increase our portfolio, we will also be critically assessing all current offerings to close those that have lost relevance ensuring that our offerings are not just relevant but are of the highest quality and academic rigor.

(Academic Rankings) Many of our academic programs—including Engineering, Nursing, Social Work, Business, and Architecture—are ranked nationally. Consider that

  • Our graduate public administration programs are ranked 4th in the online category and 12th in the on campus category;
  • Our online graduate program in Nursing is ranked No. 31 in the nation, and the College of Nursing and Health Innovation was recently designated a Center of Excellence by the National League for Nursing—only the second university in the state of Texas;
  • Our graduate program in Aerospace Engineering is ranked No. 39 in the nation;
  • Our online Masters for Social Work Program is ranked 12th in the nation;
  • We host the 13th ranked landscape architecture program; and
  • Our College of Engineering is now ranked in the top 80 in the country at the graduate level with almost all programs in the top 90.

(Recruiting Excellence: 50+ Faculty)  Growth in student numbers and an increase in rankings cannot be sustained without coordinated and focused growth in faculty numbers and recruitment is underway for over 50 tenure and tenure-track faculty positions across the university.  This is likely the highest number of positions at a single time by any university and underlines not just our growth, but our commitment to excellence and our growing reputation.  We are using a matrix structure between the Provost and the Vice-President for Research to ensure that new hires are not made by discipline but based the four theme areas ensuring that we cut across silos and barriers of departments and colleges to be one university.

(Faculty Excellence)  As we focus on the recruitment of new faculty, it is crucial that we recognize that we already have some of the very best faculty in the nation. Over the past few months three of our faculty, David Nygren, Ken Reifsnider and Duane Dimos were named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors bringing the total number at UTA to 13, representing the second highest at any university in the nation and over one-third of those in the State of Texas. 

Two of our faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry were named to the 2015 power list by Analytical Scientist, representing the top 100 most influential people in the world of analytical science. Dan Armstrong was ranked 8th in this list for his pioneering work related to the development of new methods for separating chemical mixtures in solution or as gas essential to pharmaceutical drug development and disease identification and treatment. It should be noted that in 2014, Professor Kevin Schug, also from the same department, was included in the top 40-under-40 list.

CAREER Awards from the National Science Foundation are won by only a select few in each discipline and the awardees represent the very best in their field at the Assistant Professor level.  Three of our faculty were awarded this prestigious honor this year and each is pioneering work in fields critical to the nation’s future. 

(Building the Pipeline) Student retention and progression are national issues of import and one can find statistics provided by various agencies showing that at a conservative estimate 1.2 million students drop out of high school every year.  Put another way one student drops out every 26 seconds.  In looking further at statistics one can find that of every 100 students who come into the 9th grade, only 64 will continue to high school, of which only 40 will begin a 2-year or 4-year education.  And of these 40, only 22 will receive an associates or bachelors degree or certificate in six years, and only two more will achieve that in eight.  This is indeed a challenge that we cannot hide from—it’s a terrible waste of human capital. 

UTA is involved with a variety of initiatives to nurture and prepare students in this pipeline.  From the University Crossroads program, which focuses on college awareness, financial aid workshops, and SAT and Math prep classes, to our award-winning Pathways to College Access and Readiness program that has served over 23,000 students and 3,000 parents through an emphasis on 24 GO centers in 9 partner districts where UTA mentors help high school students navigate the college admissions process, career exploration, and potential final resources we are building a college going culture while providing early support for students.  In addition to the Bound for Success program, which was initiated a year and a half ago, we have established a STEM Academy at Martin High School in the Arlington Independent School District and we announced just earlier this month the establishment of a Teacher Academy at AISD.  Designed to help attract students to teaching as a career to meet the critical shortage of teachers in Texas the program enables students in high school to take both dual credit courses to complete the core and complete a few introductory courses towards their degree in education prior to graduation.  The expectation is that these students will not only finish earlier but will return to their high schools to teach.  This is a wonderful addition to the work already being done by our College of Education and College of Science in the UTeach program.

(Advancing Educational Opportunities) Our faculty and staff continue to innovate in developing opportunities for education and receive significant plaudits for their work.  The Pathways to College program led by Professor Carla Amaro was the only university-based program named as one of five THECB Star Awards finalists.  Professor Maria Cosio led a team of faculty to a successful award of a $2.62 M HSI Department of education grant which is aimed at the establishment of the IDEAS Center to enhance graduation and retention rates among Hispanic and lower-income students.  From the two GAANN awards for graduate students in areas of national need in the Departments of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Engineering to the $1.8 M grant that enables our Division of Continuing Education to provide technical assistance and workforce development for counties and cities, UTA continues to serve our community, the State, and nation. 

(Campus Growth) Under the able leadership of John Hall, we have been able to maintain a beautiful campus in Arlington, the Research Institute in Fort Worth, and centers in both Dallas and Fort Worth despite tight budgets.  As we have grown our needs for infrastructure have increased as well.  Over the next few months, you will see substantial construction on campus as we complete the new Career Development Center, break ground on the SEIR building, and start construction on a complex that would include residence halls, a new dining facility, space for off-campus students and a new parking garage.  All in all, we could be adding over $200 million in capital expenditures in the short term as we address the growth of the university.  

(Continued Progress Towards Our Goals) We continue to make great progress towards the aggressive goals set in our Strategic Plan.  Not only are we ahead of the curve as related to student numbers, but the number of degrees awarded, our rankings, and our research expenditures continue to improve. 

(Strengthening the Brand) For years UTA has been a well-kept secret and even our neighbors did not know of our size or our growing reputation for excellence.  Today we are focused on ensuring that our story is told and that our alumni, friends and the community hear about the wonderful things going on at the university. Our communications team is busy doing just that through a range of media. 

Some of you have heard me say that UTA is a great institution with boundless potential.  It is innovative and diverse, focused on excellence, access, and student success and we continue to think quick, think new, think big and believe that the future is not two, five or 10 years away— but that the future is NOW.  I hope you will join us in this journey, visit us often to support and watch as UTA shapes its future through bold solutions and global impact.

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