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"Why Texas State University Is the Rising Star of Texas"

President Denise Trauth
June 15, 2010
Delivered to the Austin Downtown Rotary

 
By now you have probably heard me or some other proud person associated with Texas State refer to the university as “the rising star of Texas.” Maybe you’ve seen a billboard. You may wonder where we got the idea – and the audacity! – to use that phrase, so today I am going to tell you five reasons why we believe we really are the rising star of Texas.
 
First of all, our rising numbers. Sheer size and growth. We are big. We lose sight of that fact in a state with several large universities and in Austin, home of one of the largest universities in the country. But we have 30,816 students, and that’s big. Texas has five of the 50 largest public universities in the nation; California has 11, and Florida also has five. Texas State University is No. 49 nationally and the fifth largest university in the state, behind UT and A&M, the University of Houston and North Texas, but larger than Texas Tech, UT-San Antonio and UT-Arlington. In 25 other states in the Union – half of them – we would be the biggest university in the state. Many people are surprised when I tell them this. 30,000 students? Really?
 
We have an increasing number and percentage of Hispanic students, too, which is good news considering the demographics of the state. We are slowly beginning to look more like the face of Texas. One third of our students are ethnic minorities – 24% Hispanic, 6% African-American, 3% other ethnicities. While 33% of our student body is minority, 36% of our freshmen are minorities – 24% Hispanic overall, but 27% of our freshmen. So our trend is going in the right direction. As you probably know, since 2004 Texas has been a minority majority state, one of four* in the nation, where minorities outnumber Anglos. By about 2030 more than half of all Texans will be Hispanic, and by 2040 America itself will be minority majority. At some point we are going to have to find a more appropriate term than “minority!”
[*others are New Mexico, California, Hawaii]
 
One challenge of our growing student population is hiring enough faculty to teach them. But our faculty is growing even faster than our student body, and that is good news because it means smaller classes. Since 2003, we have increased the fulltime faculty by 42%, over the same period that the enrollment has grown by 17%.
 
Texas State is a big place, too. Our main campus stretches almost two miles from east to west, spread over 462 acres (as a comparison, UT’s main campus is 350 acres). We’ve also got a 3,500-acre ranch, a 26-acre recreational camp and a 101-acre campus in Round Rock, plus other acreage here and there.
 
So, we’re big. But big doesn’t necessarily equate to good. Another reason Texas State University is the rising star of Texas is its rising quality. We are one of the best public universities in the state when it comes to keeping students until they graduate. We are No. 5 among those 35 Texas universities in retention rates – the rate that a university’s freshmen re-enroll the following year. We are also No. 5 in graduation rates, and we are closing in on Nos. 3 and 4, Texas Tech and UT-Dallas. And our percentages of retention and graduation are level across ethnic lines; actually, our African-American retention and graduation rates are a little higher than our Anglo percentages. One interesting sidebar: Our student-athlete graduation rate over the last four years ranks first among these 35 universities. This includes all Division I universities in Texas.
 
One of the reasons why we have high graduation rates is because Texas State’s admission standards began to increase in the early1990s. Admittedly, it took a while for this news to get out. We went through years of hearing parents say, “What do you mean my son can’t get into Texas State?” or “Why can’t my daughter transfer?” – particularly from parents who had attended the university themselves in the ’70s and ’80s.

 

But that has greatly subsided. Our reputation is rising among high school counselors who keep up with such standards, and they filter it to students.  They must be doing a good job: We have over 16,000 applications for our freshman class this fall.
 
The quality of the faculty is also rising. A look at the new faculty for last fall reveals earned doctorates from Oxford, Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, Purdue, Cornell, Columbia, Case Western, George Washington, Boston University, Iowa State, the universities of Massachusetts, Michigan, Connecticut, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Eighteen of our faculty have been named Piper Professors – that’s a recognition of the best college teachers in the state awarded each year by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation. Eighteen honorees is more than any other university in the state – public or private – except the University of Texas.
 
With this increase in the quality of our faculty comes an increase in the quality of our graduate students – stellar faculty attract stellar graduate students –  and that means an increase in the quality of published articles and research grants. We increased our annual research expenditures from $10 million in 2007 to        $19 million in 2008 to $24 million in 2009. That’s quite incredible.
 
And as the quality of our students and faculty has risen, so has the quality of our academic offerings. Texas State has always done an outstanding job of teaching the majors it offers. If we can’t teach it well, we don’t offer it. And the campus prides itself, justifiably, on its long history of quality undergraduate education. But the breadth of the curriculum has grown in recent years. The university awarded its first Ph.D. in May 2000, and now we enroll 346 doctoral students in nine degree fields, with two more doctoral programs in the pipeline.
 
We have also expanded our curriculum into some critically needed areas. We began our electrical engineering program in the fall of 2008 – we expected 25 students in that first class and 70 enrolled. We received approval last summer for our nursing program, which will begin in August at our Round Rock campus when the building to house it opens. We had twice as many applications as we could accept for the initial junior-level class of 100.
 
The third reason for being the rising star of Texas is our rising prestige. I list this apart from rising quality because image almost always lags behind reality. Our image is beginning to catch up to our reality. And I believe that since 2003, we have had the name that goes with our quality.
 
Prestige comes from quality work in various fields, being the best or only in designated fields. Our communication design program was listed among the “top U.S. graphic design schools” by Graphic Design USA magazine, the only Texas school named and one of the only public universities. If students want to learn the music recording business, they come to San Marcos because we have the only Sound Recording Technology program in the Southwest. Our creative writing M.F.A. has caught the attention of hundreds of would-be writers who apply for the limited seats in that class program where students are taught by some of the best in the business, including Tim O’Brien, National Book Award winner who now holds the creative writing endowed chair. And keep an eye on our musical theatre program – last year we hired a couple of faculty who are determined to make it one of the best in the country, and we have seen some productions this year that make us sure that is going to happen.
 
When astrophysicists from anywhere in the country talk about forensic astronomy, they think of our faculty member Don Olson, who does fascinating work in that field. When people around the state talk about math education, they think of Max Warshauer, whose Mathworks program has been ranked among the top six mathematics programs in the nation eight times by the American Math Society Epsilon Fund. In geography circles, it is our department – the largest in the country – that comes to mind when Gil Grosvenor and the National Geographic Society talk about geographic education and innovations in geography.          When the state Senate Education Committee wanted to know how to keep teachers in the teaching field, they called our Leslie Huling. She told them why 80% of the teachers certified by Texas State are still teaching three years out of college, compared to a national average of 67%.
 
Our Forensic Research Facility is one of only three in the nation. Our Concrete Industry Management program is one of only five in the U.S. and the only one anywhere near Texas. The incredibly beautiful lake and river on our campus allow us to offer unique programs, including a Ph.D. in aquatic resources and to become a leading voice in water issues through agencies like our River Systems Institute. Last year we received a Texas Emerging Technology Fund grant of $4 million – we had asked for $3 million. We may be the only entity in the history of fundraising to get more than we asked for!
 
Two years ago our Wittliff Collections acquired the papers of Cormac McCarthy, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. This acquisition happened the same year McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men won the Academy Award as Best Picture.
 
I believe one piece of evidence of our rising prestige is the response of some of our private supporters. Donors invest only in worthy causes. They do not board bandwagons that are not going someplace. We have been blessed with some impressive gifts in recent years: $20 million for our business school; $8 million for performing arts; $9 million for athletics and business; $6 million for nursing; $7 million for engineering. Since the March 2006, we have raised almost $86 million in private gifts – and this during some challenging economic times.
 
Prestige like I have been talking about does not come overnight. It is the result of years of planning and accomplishment, and that brings me to my fourth point about why Texas State University is the rising star of Texas: the footprint that the university has left on the region, the state and the country.
 
We have 131,000 living alumni in our database. In addition to those living alumni, as far back as 1903, hundreds of students every year earned diplomas and went into schools, businesses, government, entertainment, science, the military, law enforcement, health care, agriculture, art and media. True to our founding as a teacher preparation institution, we still certify more teachers than any other university in Texas. With that many graduates, there is probably not a school district in the State of Texas without one of our graduates.         
 
Our alumni include people as diverse as Lyndon Johnson, George Strait, Heloise, Olympic gold medal high jumper Charles Austin, and actor Powers Boothe.
 
Over the last several years, we have enrolled students from 253 of Texas’ 254 counties – Loving County in West Texas with a population of 67, the least populated county in America, is always the holdout. Students have come from every state in the Union and from 139 countries. As I said before, we have more than 131,000 living alumni in our database. Ninety percent of them have stayed in Texas, 65,000 of them live in the San Antonio-to-Georgetown corridor, and 22,000 in Travis County alone. They live in every state in the Union and in 244 of the 254 counties in Texas. The 10 holdouts are all in far West Texas or the Panhandle, with populations of fewer than 5,000.
 
An entertaining exercise is to wear a Texas State T-shirt in some remote location and see how long it takes for someone to say to you “hey, I went to school there.” It happened to my husband John at an outdoor café in France. And it happened to my son-in-law in a hotel lobby in the Bahamas.
 
And my last point about why we are the rising star of Texas – and in many ways the most important – is that we are rising to meet the workforce needs of the state. I will mention just a few of the ways we are doing this.
 
I know you are familiar with Closing the Gaps, the imperative of getting more Texans into college. This is a vital need and one to which every university must contribute. Our contributions to this effort are another whole speech.
 
I mentioned our new engineering and nursing programs, two of the critical needs we recognized and with our community partners and generous private donors sought to meet.
 
Our Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program – ALERRT for short – was begun after the Columbine murders, in response to changing law enforcement tactics. Before Columbine, responders were trained to stake out and assess a crime site. In cases like Columbine and Virginia Tech, the response has to be more immediate, and the ALERRT program trains responders to handle active shooters. The program has trained more than 21,000 first responders since 2002, and this does not include the second-generation training provided through ALERRT’s Train-the-Trainer program.
 
Since mid-century, the world’s population has doubled and our water use has tripled. Because of our unique location at the headwaters of a beautiful river, we feel a moral responsibility to steward this precious resource and to prepare the researchers and policymakers who will lead the conservation effort. We do this through our Ph.D. in aquatic resources I mentioned earlier, through our Department of Biology with the River Systems Institute, which we opened in partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife, and through our Edwards Aquifer Research and Data Center. I was in Ajijic, Mexico, outside Guadalajara last summer and met a woman familiar with the work of our faculty in the Department of Biology. Our faculty are working with the citizens of Ajijic to reclaim Chapala Lake, one of the largest lakes in Mexico.
 
Another need we identified and felt qualified to meet was in mathematics education. We are all familiar with the statistics on how America is falling behind in mathematics education. We began offering a Ph.D. in mathematics education in the fall of 2007, and we enrolled three times the number of students we expected.
 
Texas has a critical need to attract high-tech jobs and top scientists and researchers to boost the state’s economic competitiveness. To help do this, Texas State was awarded a $4 million Emerging Technology Fund grant in 2008. This is an award that will propel the university into a leadership role in the developing field of nano-multifunctional materials science. Through this grant we operate a new center for the research and commercialization of materials that will make possible advances in energy generation, communication, security and health care. Information processing and high-density, light-weight information storage are applications that could reap immediate benefits – but other uses include more efficient solar-power generation and entirely new approaches to computing and communication. The federal government has expressed interest in sophisticated, next-generation sensors that could be developed from this research for homeland security purposes. We are quite excited about the potential that materials science holds for us and for Texas.
 
To make sure that we are offering the academic programs that Texas needs, we are undertaking an extensive study of our master’s degree offerings. Our goal is to identify fields where we need to add programs or new concentrations in existing programs.
 
So there you have it: Five reasons why Texas State University is the rising star of Texas.
1.    Our rising numbers
2.    Our rising quality
3.    Our rising prestige
4.    Our footprint on the region, and state and the country
5.    We are rising to meet the workforce needs of Texas.

We believe we live up to the tagline.