University of Texas President Gregory L. Fenves announced Tuesday that UT would increase financial aid for low- and middle-income students, boost faculty salaries to be more competitive, expand job-placement services for graduating students and, later this fall, launch a patient care group practice at the Dell Medical School.
Fenves outlined these and other initiatives at his third state of the university address, delivered from a stage at UT’s McCullough Theatre.
“Our efforts take time. They take investment. They take passion, imagination and creativity. But that’s what’s required of us as a leading flagship university, and we embrace the challenge,” the UT president said in a decidedly upbeat speech.
A year ago, in his second state of the university address, Fenves outlined efforts to foster deeper intellectual inquiry, enhance diversity and increase financial aid for students from middle-income families.
He said then that the university would draw from reserves to commit an additional $15 million in financial aid grants over the next two years to students from middle-income families with annual incomes starting at $60,000. UT students from families with incomes under $60,000 typically get tuition fully covered by grants.
In his remarks Tuesday, he did not say how much additional financial aid he wanted to earmark for low- and middle-income students. He did say, however, that it would be on a recurring basis thanks to additional endowment proceeds recently authorized for the flagship campus by the UT System Board of Regents. And he ascribed his desire to make it possible for more students of modest means to attend the university to an overarching sense of what the institution is all about.
“Our deepest purpose as a university,” Fenves said, “is to unlock potential.”
To that end, the UT president cited a recent study showing that nearly half of UT students who graduated in the early 2000s and who came from families in the lowest income quintile are now earning at least twice what their families earned. “For these graduates, this is the American dream come true,” he said.
Fenves did not offer a price tag for what he described as “a multiyear effort to focus on salary competitiveness after years of falling behind other top-ranked universities.” He couched that initiative in the context of investing in excellence, both in hiring and retention: “Our purpose as a research university can only be fulfilled by having the best faculty to drive education and discovery.”
He said it was “a big deal” that the medical school’s clinical programs would be starting “a mere five years” after Travis County voters approved property tax funding for the school. Patients will be seen at the medical school’s Health Transformation Building.
He said the clinical programs would complement the university’s partnerships with Central Health, the county’s health care district, and the Seton Healthcare Family, a Catholic hospital system that opened the Dell Seton Medical Center in May.
As for career services, Fenves said UT would establish a College to Career program in the next year to help place students in their first post-college jobs. The program will be in addition to existing career services at UT’s various colleges and schools.
On a related matter, he called on faculty members in every department to provide all undergraduates with the opportunity to participate in so-called experiential learning — hands-on training that can round out academic training with skills useful throughout life. As an example, he cited a new bachelor of science degree in arts and entertainment technologies at the College of Fine Arts that blends artistic expression with training in using the latest technology.
Fenves told the American-Statesman after his speech that he would present detailed cost figures on the financial aid and salary initiatives at a regents’ meeting this fall. He said he was grateful to the regents for increasing the university’s share of the annual endowment payout, which helps make the initiatives possible. The regents boosted the university’s share by 4 percentage points, or $24 million more than it had been scheduled to get, to $338 million for the budget year that began Sept. 1.
UT is making progress toward its goal of a 70 percent four-year graduation rate. The latest figures are expected in the coming days. “We’re not going to hit 70,” Fenves told the Statesman, “but we’re going to be close.”