President Praises Flourishing Trends in Freshman Class, Research
In his annual State of the University address, UT Dallas President Richard C. Benson presented a pioneering plan that positions The University of Texas at Dallas as a top-tier powerhouse for the 21st century.
Benson, who is the Eugene McDermott Distinguished University Chair of Leadership, pointed to an array of accolades, including the recent ranking of UT Dallas as the second-fastest growing public doctoral university in the country, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Our institution has almost doubled in size in the last 10 years. In fact, four of the top six fastest-growing public doctoral institutions are in The University of Texas System. UT Dallas is No. 1 in our state,” he said.
Much of Benson’s speech compared how UT Dallas was performing in relation to its strategic plan. Released a year ago, the plan outlined goals for the University and addressed the overall health of UT Dallas.
Enrollment Growth, Major Interests
This fall, 29,543 students are enrolled at UT Dallas, including 4,087 first-time-in-college freshmen, well ahead of the University’s goal of 3,900. Also, 195 new National Merit Scholars joined the University, an increase of 13% over the previous year. UT Dallas has more than doubled its number of National Merit Scholars in the last six years.
Here are some key statistics that President Richard C. Benson highlighted during the State of the University:
Fall Enrollment: 29,543 (up 2.7% from fall 2018)
Freshman Class: Average SAT score of 1344 (up 20 points from fall 2018) and 195 National Merit Scholars (up 13% from fall 2018)
Federal Research Expenditures: $48 million (up 20% from academic year 2018)
Endowment: $540 million
“We are growing extraordinarily fast while attracting the best and the brightest. UTD was ranked eighth in the nation for Merit Scholars last year,” Benson said. “We are competing with elite private schools and large public universities for this high level of talent. It is quite revealing that UT Dallas is holding its own among them.”
Many students continue to choose traditional STEM fields, while some of the most popular majors are among the University’s newest offerings.
“Three of the 10 most popular majors are only 10 years old,” Benson said. “Mechanical engineering was the third-most preferred choice among students, followed by biomedical engineering [fifth]. Programs in the [School of] Arts, Technology and Emerging Communication [eighth] followed close behind. These fields are rapidly becoming a significant attraction at UTD, especially ATEC. It’s a rare university that has this kind of depth of programming.”
Computer science is the No. 1 choice of incoming freshmen, followed by biology as the second-most popular major.
Benson emphasized the importance of infrastructure to keep up with enrollment and highlighted several upcoming campus projects, including the new Science Building, which is scheduled to open in fall 2020.
The strategic plan targeted the need for 2.3 million square feet in academic space. By the end of 2020, UT Dallas will have 1.865 million square feet.
“These new developments are a true bright spot,” Benson said. “Look around campus. Large cranes dot the horizon. Seeing so much construction equipment shows in a physical way the exponential growth of a young university making its mark.”
UT Dallas, which ranks among universities with very high research activity in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, has continued to build momentum with its research.
For academic year 2019, the University increased federal research expenditures by 20% in what Benson described as a “very direct measure that we’re doing well.”
“We have nice gains in our federal research expenditures. It was a large jump,” he said. “We are competing with the best in the country for every available research dollar. UT Dallas is becoming a force to be reckoned with.”
One area for opportunity, however, is in the number of graduate students attending UT Dallas as well as the number of doctoral graduates, he said. Another area for focus is the number of tenure-system faculty.
“Students are choosing us. Scholars are choosing us. Research foundations are choosing us. We have a great story to tell. If you want to get behind a winner, UT Dallas is your place.”
UT Dallas President Richard C. Benson
“Our faculty size is relatively small. We are planning five dozen new hires each year over the next five years,” Benson said. “As for doctoral students, the good news is we are turning out more PhDs than comparable universities; however, the number of doctoral degrees awarded is down this year. To counteract this trend and continue to attract high-quality incoming doctoral students, we are exploring pilot programs both in BBS [School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences] and EPPS [School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences].”
In addition, the downward trend in the number of master’s students remains a concern. Graduate students are not enrolling at the same rate and proportion as undergraduates.
“While we have outperformed our undergraduate target by a healthy margin, we continue to lose ground on graduate enrollment. This has been the experience of many universities across the country. To address this, we have strategic groups and committees in place to create an international strategy,” he said.
Benson noted the University’s growing endowment, which reached $540 million and is on pace to meet a goal of $750 million by 2023.
He closed his presentation by saying UT Dallas will continue its upward trajectory, taking its place among the great universities.
“No one is obligated to send their dollars to UTD,” Benson said. “But to an ever-increasing extent, they want to. Students are choosing us. Scholars are choosing us. Research foundations are choosing us. We have a great story to tell. If you want to get behind a winner, UT Dallas is your place.”