Over the past year, I've shared some of the key lessons we've learned at the University of Houston-Downtown that might be shared with other universities. I started the blog when I began as president at UHD. For new followers, I encourage you to read some of the earlier posts.
In my last post, I mentioned efforts by President Obama, Lumina Foundation, and others to increase the percentage of adults with college degrees. The University of Houston-Downtown is the 13th largest public institution in Texas and the second largest university in Houston. Over 80% of our students work 30 hours or more and about a quarter of all students work more than 40 hours or per week, often in two jobs. The average age of our students is 28 years. So, our students are predominantly working adults, many of them have children and families to support.
UHD has been nationally recognized as a Top 100 university in producing minority baccalaureate students. We rank 33rd in the country in awarding baccalaureate degrees to Hispanics and 47th for awarding baccalaureate degrees to African Americans. This past year we graduated over 2,400 students with bachelor's and graduate degrees. We are determined to increase these numbers.
Followers of this blog have asked me to briefly summarize some of what occurred in my first year as president at UHD. When I arrived in Houston and at UHD, I began my presidency by walking around and listening. I visited with students, faculty, alumni, regents, members of the President's Advisory Board, and elected officials. I spoke before most colleges at UHD and several departments. I held focus groups and distributed a survey online and via email asking five very simple questions: 1) What does UHD do very well and where could we excel? 2) In what areas does UHD pretty good and with a different emphasis could be very good? 3) What areas should UHD stop doing? 4) What resources does UHD leave on the table (grants, foundations, corporations, partnerships, etc.) and, lastly, 5) If you were UHD president for one day and could make one change, what would it be?
We put together a team of faculty and staff to summarize the survey results. We then held several leadership retreats, built around the Good to Great model, and used the survey results as a starting point. We revised our mission, established goals, and this summer decided upon a single big goal (BHAG in the Good to Great vernacular): UHD will be known as a premier city university engaging every student in high impact experiences.
We also agreed on preliminary goals and metrics for 2020. For example, we want to dramatically grow graduate programs and expand our research. We project that UHD will have over 22,000 students by 2020 with roughly 8-10 per cent of total student enrollment coming from graduate programs. We will greatly expand the number of online degrees with roughly a quarter of all enrollment online by 2020. We have already launched discussions among the faculty on steps we can take to implement these ambitious goals.
But key to our focus is building strong undergraduate degrees developed around a culture of high-impact experiences. What are high-impact experiences and why do we want all UHD students to receive these experiences? They include learning communities, undergraduate research, peer mentoring, first-year experience programs, service learning, internships, work teams, capstone courses, etc. These activities engage students in experiential learning and provide them opportunities to work closely with faculty. Research nationally and our own experience show that students who participate in high-impact experiences are more likely to graduate than those students who don't receive such experiences. They are also more likely to graduate on-time.
UHD has a long history of such programs, including the Scholars Academy which has been recognized by the NSF and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for their success in graduating students from underrepresented ethnic and racial groups in STEM fields. UHD also has a long history of providing high-quality internships with corporations, non profits, and public agencies, as well as service learning courses that address issues affecting the Houston area. In the course of the planning retreats, we decided to build off this strength, expand it, and make it a cohesive part of the UHD learning experience.
But, we also want to ensure our students are prepared for 21st Century jobs. Technology is changing rapidly and industries are developing new jobs and requiring new skills. Most of the top 10 jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004 and many companies in the Fortune 500 did not exist in 1990. One of the nation's largest public agencies did not exist in 2000. So, we must not only prepare students for jobs that exist today, we must provide them with skill sets they can use to solve problems that don't yet exist with technologies that haven't been developed for industries that now seem only distant dreams.
I have asked our faculty and the provost to work together to decide on what every UHD graduate should know in the 21st Century. They will be using as starting points the work of national higher education organizations, such as AAC&U, AASCU, ACE, and others, along with recommendations of the U.S. Chamber and American Association of Manufacturer's. These groups recommend that all college students graduate with critical thinking skills, analytical and problem-solving skills, global understanding, team work, and excellent communication skills, among others. Our faculty will decide on appropriate competencies. We will then integrate these competencies into every major UHD offers and assess learning to those competencies.
We are also working hard to retain and graduate students. This year we launched a common reading program with 800 freshmen students receiving the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. Nearly 60 faculty and over 600 students participated in a special session a week before classes to discuss the book.We made a pledge to the students: if they agree to work hard, take the required courses, and regularly meet with an adviser, we will mentor them and help them to graduate on time. Faculty are now following up with those students to ensure their success.
Finally, we are meeting with community colleges throughout Houston to re-affirm and re-sign joint admission and reverse transfer programs so that students from community colleges will earn full credit at UHD. More than three-fourths of our students are transfer students, so it is important that we build strong partnerships and full articulation with the major community college districts that surround UHD.
UHD will do everything it can to increase the number of degrees we award. We want to be part of the national effort to increase the percentage of adults with college degrees. I will keep you informed of our progress.