Dodging ice storms and snowy conditions slightly to the north of their route, 49 independent educational consultants traveled across Texas on a college road trip sponsored by the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA).
While it remains to be seen if everything really is bigger in Texas, the hearty welcome and warm southern hospitality extended by administrators, faculty and students on each of the eight campuses visited more than made up for any deficiencies in winter weather.
And here is a sample (in order of visits) of what the HECA group learned during four days touring the Lone Star State:
University of Houston
The University of Houston is not shy about its ambitions to become the third “flagship university” in the state of Texas. Already the third largest university, UH has put in place admissions and recruitment strategies designed to attract stronger and stronger cohorts of students. They’ve done this by offering generous scholarships and taking full advantage of a legislated out-of-state waiver stipulating that any student offered at least $1000 in UH scholarships is eligible to receive in-state tuition—a savings of thousands per semester. Students may opt in for the UH in 4 program, which guarantees a fixed tuition rate all four years for students taking 30 credit hours or more per year (including summer). And National Merit Scholars receive a full ride, four years of room and board, as well as a research stipend.
Proud of its 600-acre campus, formally known as “university park,” UH has a new football stadium, a new student center and is breaking ground on a new $51 million multi-disciplinary research and engineering building. Light rail will be coming to campus in April, and the on-campus Hilton Hotel owned and operated by UH recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation entirely funded by the Hilton Foundation. Within its highly competitive honors college, UH has an established BS/MD program and a 3-3 law program is set to open in the fall. Engineering is on track to grow by a factor of two, with Petroleum Engineering leading the way, and UH currently boasts of the largest Geophysics program in the country. And finally, the Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, which houses the largest collection of hospitality research materials in the world, will be opening a PhD program in the fall.
Between 2006 and 2012, undergraduate enrollment at Rice University grew by 30 percent to 3,800 students. A private, comprehensive research university, Rice is home to more than 40 interdisciplinary research centers, institutes and consortia.
One of the hallmarks of the Rice “experience” is the residential college system. Each of the university’s undergrads becomes a member of one of 11 residential colleges, which have their own dining halls, public rooms, and dorms. A faculty master is assigned to each college and lives in an adjacent house, and these small sub-communities become individual social hubs for living and learning at the university. McMurtry College and Duncan College are the two newest residential colleges on the Rice campus.
Texas A&M University
The state’s first public institution of higher education, Texas A&M University is located on a 5,200-acre campus and currently enrolls more than 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students, studying in more than 120 undergraduate and 240 graduate degree programs in 16 colleges and schools. With more than 10,000 students, the Dwight Look College of Engineering is the largest of the university’s colleges and the most competitive.
Texas A&M ranks in the top tier of universities nation in terms of research expenditures. The 400-acre Research Park includes 10 buildings and more than 500,000 square feet of space for companies and organizations dedicated to innovation and new technologies. New on-campus construction includes a Center for Urban and Structural Entomology, a Liberal Arts Building, a 115,000 square foot Physical Education Activity Program Building, and a new Veterinary Biomedical Education Complex.
The oldest continually operating university in Texas, Baylor University is the largest Baptist educational institution in the world. Located on a 1000-acre campus situated along the Brazos River, Baylor welcomed 3,525 freshmen in the fall of 2014, for a total undergraduate enrollment of 13,859. Baylor currently offers 144 baccalaureate, 74 masters, 33 doctoral, a juris doctor, and 2 education specialist programs. Among several accelerated or fast-track programs is the Baylor2 Medical Track Program, which is a combined 8-year baccalaureate/MD program offered each year to six outstanding high school students one of whom receives an $80,000 scholarship to complete undergraduate study at Baylor University and four additional years of medical study at Baylor College of Medicine.
Major new constructions projects on the Baylor campus include the $99 million Paul L Foster Campus for Business and Innovation that will house the Hankamer School of Business; the $260 million McLane Stadium, where fans are able to tailgate and “sailgate” on the adjoining river; and a two-phase on-campus track and field facility.
Located just north of Austin, Southwestern University enrolls slightly over 1,500 students in an innovative program of studies referred to as Paideia. To fulfill the Paideia requirement, students take a series of three courses centered around a specific big-picture theme or “cluster,” followed by a team-taught interdisciplinary seminar. Students have the opportunity to participate in civic engagement and intercultural learning experiences, which encourage them to apply knowledge beyond the classroom.
Southwestern recently received a $1.3 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) that is part of a nationwide $50 million science education initiative. The grant will transform Southwestern’s natural science programs: in addition to adding new physical facilities, Southwestern will become the only institution in the United States to teach all its natural science courses (at all levels) through an inquiry-based approach.
St. Edward’s University
Annually enrolling approximately 5,000 students, St. Edward’s University offers creative majors in Theater Arts, Graphic Design and Photocommunications as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting, Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Management and Sustainability, and a Master of Arts in Organizational Development. Other specialized undergrad programs include Digital Media Management, Interactive Games Studies and Interactive Games Management.
Since 1999, St. Ed’s has invested more than $200 million in new facilities, including a new library, academic buildings, student housing, a health and wellness center, and a second dining hall. The Sciences and Technology Center—South Building is the latest project designed to enhance and upgrade lab environments complementing the “see-through science” design pioneered in the North Building. These facilities will support the new 3-2 engineering partnership (dual degree program) recently signed with Carroll College in Montana.
University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin annually graduates 12,000 students who join nearly 450,000 Longhorns living around the world. UT Austin is the largest institution of the University of Texas System and sits on a 350-acre campus housing 17 colleges and schools. Enrolling one of the most diverse student populations in the country, the university offers many programs designed to close gaps related to gender and ethnicity including the Women in Engineering Program, the Equal Opportunity in Engineering Program, the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Cross-disciplinary Consortium, and the Women in Natural Sciences Program.
Of many academic enrichment programs offered at UT Austin, the Bridging Disciplines Programs (BDPs) are among the most interesting. BDPs allow a student to earn an interdisciplinary certificate in one of 15 different concentration areas including Children & Society, Conflict Resolution & Peace Studies, Digital Arts & Media , Social Entrepreneurship & Non-profits, and Social Inequality, Health & Policy. BDPs cross the boundaries between colleges and disciplines and offer students the opportunity to demonstrate a secondary area of specialization as well as to gain access to special research or internship opportunities.
Founded shortly after the Civil War, Trinity University has resided on four campuses in three different locations. Finally settled in San Antonio, the Trinity campus encompasses 117 acres of beautiful grounds set apart by red brick buildings and native live oaks.
The $127 million Center for the Sciences and Innovation is the largest development ever undertaken on the Trinity campus. Completed in phases, the project includes new construction along with major renovations of existing building designed to create an “integrated complex” featuring glass-walled classrooms, study areas, and offices as well as state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratories. The Center is home to a new curricular initiative called Interdisciplinary Science Education through Research (ISER).