Yesterday, I met a room full of new UHD faculty. When I mentioned that to a friend in California, he said, "You're hiring new tenure-track faculty in this economy? You gotta be kidding. We're just trying to hold on to what we have. We're reducing the number of students, taking furloughs, cutting-back on everything, and raising tuition and fees!"
Yes, we're hiring new faculty and we're planning to move from a 4-4 teaching load to a 4-3 teaching load next Fall--assuming we have the money to do it. It's not that Texas is rolling in money. In fact, like most states, this year the legislature and governor balanced the budget with stimulus money. That helped for now, but could hit higher ed hard in the next budget cycle. Even so, Houston and UHD have not felt the deep cuts of other parts of the country--not yet.
And, students keep coming, especially in areas around our learning centers in the some of the fast-growing sections of Houston. So UHD is growing. We expect enrollment increases of between 3-4% this year over last.
The real issue in a school like ours is retention. Only about 7% of our students are first time, full-time freshmen (what's termed FTIC). Most of our students are transfers from community colleges or re-entry students (who work full-time or close to it).
UHD is a commuter campus in downtown Houston where condos rent for 2,000-3,000 a month, rent most of our faculty and staff can't pay, let alone our students. So the students drive many miles to campus, take courses at our learning centers, or take online courses. The MetroRail helps as students and faculty can park miles away and ride the rail. As the train expand North and the spur lines are added East and West, more neighborhoods will be served by the train. Right now the MetroRail connects students from nearby community colleges who often are jointly-enrolled in UHD and a community college.
Like all commuter campuses, UHD is trying to do a better job in student retention and graduation. Few of our freshmen students graduate in four-years or even six years, because most are working. Yet, each year we graduate many students, enough that we can hold two graduate ceremonies, one in December and one in the Spring. Commencement Exercises are held in Minute Maid Park--where the Astros play--and we fill up the stadium with parents and relatives of graduates, twice a year!
In fact, UHD has received recognition from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and performance funding for graduation of Hispanic and African American students and for graduation of STEM students, particularly minority students.
So keep 'em coming and keep graduating them!