The push for 40,000, student success and research growth enhance Texas Tech’s national stature.
Today, Texas Tech University is home to growing and thriving academic and research communities built around a dynamic campus culture. At the institution known for its beautiful Spanish Renaissance architecture and wealth of public art, COVID-19 has changed the way things look this fall. The campus is a bit quieter these days, daily routines have changed, and technology plays a more central role in all campus activities; nevertheless, students, faculty and staff continue to flourish despite these changes.
The growth at Texas Tech was brought into sharper relief this week with the news that Texas Tech had achieved a goal more than a decade in the making, reaching a total student population of more than 40,000. It was an ambitious goal by any standards.
"Our focus has not been to just increase enrollment. We've also been committed to enhancing the student experience and their success, increasing international enrollment and the diversity on campus in a way that reflects our state and national demographics, and expanding the research impact of Texas Tech," said President Lawrence Schovanec.
"There are several things we can point to as evidence of the progress we've made in reaching these goals. For instance, in 2016 Texas Tech was listed for the first time in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education's highest research category (R1), often referred to as 'Tier One.' Last year, Texas Tech was certified as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), one of only 15 R1 institutions in the U.S. Now, in 2020, we attained the 40,000 student milestone while still achieving record retention and graduation rates."
The university's growth is reflected in what seems to be continuous additions and upgrades in facilities on campus. In just the last three years, there have been ribbon cuttings celebrating the opening of the new research-focused Experimental Sciences Building II, the Honors Residence Hall and new athletic facilities, such as the Sports Performance Center and the Cash Family Sports Nutrition Facility. In the next few months, there will be openings of the renovated Dairy Barn and Weeks Hall and the new Dustin R. Womble Basketball Center.
Looking back now, one thing is obvious: From here, it was possible.
How it began
In 2007, then-Chancellor Kent Hance announced the goal to increase the university's enrollment to 40,000 by the fall of 2020. It was formalized in the university's 2010-2020 strategic plan, but that wasn't the university's only goal at the time. Also on the radar was the push to become a Tier One national research institution, as determined by inclusion in the highest level of the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
"Becoming a Tier One institution validated this university in terms of our standing as a national research university, and that was critical to us recruiting the top faculty and the top students, including the top graduate students," said Mark A. Sheridan, dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for graduate and postdoctoral affairs. "It wasn't just a goal, just to be on a ranking – it had very important ramifications for us."
While student enrollment was a key priority, the strategic plan also included a focus on achieving Tier One status through strengthening academic quality and reputation, expanding and enhancing research and creative scholarship, and increasing campus resources.
Jamie Hansard, now the university's vice president for enrollment management, was overseeing one of the university's recruitment teams in Undergraduate Admissions at the time, and she remembers how overwhelming the goal seemed.
"From the initial recruitment level, we were excited to have something to work toward, but I think it was very daunting," she said. "When you look at what our enrollment was in 2008-2009, and then somebody tells you we need to get to 40,000, and bringing in new undergraduate students was a huge piece of that, it was very daunting. But we all came together and really began to evaluate everything we do, thinking, 'How do we meet this goal while maintaining quality and support to ensure further student success?'"
As specified in the strategic plan, there was a definite path to follow: increase first-year enrollment, grow graduate student enrollment, focus on diversity and concentrate on retention and graduation.
Retention and graduation
Of course, bringing in new students is only half of the picture when trying to increase enrollment, because every new student who comes into the university eventually leaves – whether by graduating or not.
One of Texas Tech's core priorities is to promote the success of its students, and their retention and graduation is an essential part of that success. Since 2016, the university has seen a 4% increase in its six-year graduation rate and a more than 7% increase in the four-year rate. This reflects a trend of record retention rates beginning in 2016.
In the 2009-2010 academic year, the university conferred a total of 6,153 degrees; this past year, that number rose to 8,572. Undergraduate degrees swelled by more than 40% and doctoral degrees by more than 60%.
"This last academic year, we conferred a record number of master's degrees and doctoral degrees," Sheridan said. "That's another barometer that's critical for the university's stature and standing as a national research university. The number of doctoral degrees we confer is one of the main metrics that is critical to Carnegie Classification."
In Undergraduate Admissions, Hansard and her colleagues made some significant shifts. They hired regional recruiters throughout Texas as well as focusing recruitment efforts on other states and countries. Admissions counselors communicated one-on-one with each student, establishing a relationship and helping each student connect with the programs they were interested in. University administrators even helped out in recruiting, calling students and meeting with those who came to campus.
In fall 2019, Texas Tech made a concerted effort to enhance marketing and communication. But more than just the message, Texas Tech increased the amount of print materials distributed to prospective students and provided more focused electronic communication.
"One of the reasons we're successful is because of the connections we make with students, and that's what we hear from them," Hansard said. "They feel connected to the university when they come and visit. They feel like it's a place where we want them, and they won't just be another student on campus. I think we bring all of that into play – it's that West Texas hospitality we talk about. They don't just experience it from admissions, they experience it from the whole campus when they're here."
For students who couldn't make it to campus, campus went to them via the Raider Roadshow.
"We literally took the university to all of the major cities in Texas," Hansard said. "We had representatives from administration and academic colleges, and most of our student support programs and services were there. When we ask students, what was the one thing that really impacted them, a lot of students will say Raider Roadshow."
Even on social media, the university was able to target potential students with one-on-one attention. Focusing on the platforms where prospective students are allowed recruiters to engage immediately for student outreach.
"As new students are admitted to Texas Tech, we engage with them and share information with them through social media to build a following of people who want to be a part of the family," Hansard said.
And that family has become increasingly diverse. It is notable that the university's growth has primarily occurred in the population of students of color and those from other countries. It was significant that in the fall of 2018, Texas Tech achieved the benchmarks to be a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and this past year, was eligible to receive more than $1 million in grants that support all students as a result of that HSI designation.
"I think it's really important, as a state institution, that our university demographics reflect the state," Hansard said. "We really worked on providing access and opportunity to all students, because we want them to feel welcome and know this is a place where we appreciate all different types of diversity.
"Not only are we talking about ethnic diversity, but also gender. We also look at geography and making sure our student population is very diverse so that, when you come to college, you get to have all of those experiences and meet new people and learn about new cultures. Not every student has the same story, and I think that's one of the great things about diversifying our student body."
Then, to help seal the deal with potential students, Texas Tech offers significant financial aid. Two of the largest percentage increases in enrollment over the last decade have occurred during Schovanec's tenure and reflect significant increases in need- and merit-based scholarship support.
Investment in student financial support, both scholarships and grants, has grown to $171 million for fiscal year 2020, up from just $128 million four years ago.
"Since 2016, we have more than doubled the number of Presidential Scholars and seen a dramatic increase in National Merit Finalists on campus, going from less than 10 to more than 70," Schovanec said. "It is also significant that during this same time, the amount of money borrowed by Texas Tech students in a year has dropped by more than $15 million."
To further support the research enterprise, which is critical to Texas Tech's standing as a Tier One research institution, growth in graduate enrollment was a priority.
"The greatest importance of graduate students is twofold: they're the fuel that drives our research and innovation across the university, and the impact of that on society is tremendous, but also they meet the demands for a highly skilled workforce in a knowledge-based economy, and that demand is increasing," Sheridan said. "So by increasing the number of students in our graduate programs, we can do both: meet workforce demands and really contribute to our research and innovation enterprise."
When Sheridan arrived at the university in 2014, he immediately implemented several new strategies to that end. The Graduate School launched an electronic application platform to increase efficiency and make the process easier for applicants. Then, Sheridan asked each of the colleges to develop an enrollment management plan.
Then began a more concerted marketing and recruitment effort that, over time, has resulted in a marked increase in applications, a necessity to increase the number of qualified students. Along with those efforts have come the strategic allocation of new funding resources to support the recruitment and retention of high-quality students.
For the current fiscal year, the university has awarded 5,150 graduate scholarships worth more than $13.3 million. Law students have been awarded 391 scholarships totaling nearly $3.4 million.
These efforts have been highly successful. The Graduate School is now ranked among the top 10% of universities in the country for full-time graduate enrollment. Texas Tech now ranks among the top 50 universities in the nation for doctoral degrees awarded, conferring more than 390 in 2020, compared with 169 when the strategic plan was launched.
In 2010, the university received just over $58 million in research awards. For 2020, that total increased to more than $84 million. During this time, research expenditures more than doubled from $85.8 million to $191.6 million.
"As a Carnegie top tier public research institution, one of the factors that distinguishes the student experience at Texas Tech is that undergraduates have the opportunity to work directly with faculty at the pinnacle of achievement in research, scholarship and creative activity," said Joseph Heppert, vice president for research and innovation. "These opportunities are transformative. They changed my life, and I know they are transforming the lives of many of our undergraduate students. I am extremely proud that Texas Tech is able to offer these opportunities to an increasing cohort of students from Texas and the nation."
The establishment of the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine, which is scheduled to enroll its first class in August 2021, represents a historic achievement that reflects Texas Tech's long-standing commitment to serve West Texas. The school will foster growth in the university's graduate programs and research enterprise in ways that uniquely impact the communities and industries that have always been an essential part of the university's service mission.
Putting it all together
The goal of 40,000 students initially was framed as one step to grow Texas Tech's stature and presence. Having achieved that benchmark, it's time to look toward the next goal.
Texas Tech's current strategic plan, "A Foundation For The Next Century: A Pathway to 2025," builds on the foundation of past successes while laying out a vision for what Texas Tech can be as it begins to enter its second century.
"We set out to fulfill this goal on our way to becoming a world-class research institution where students still come first," Schovanec said. "As we look back on this decade of progress, we take pride in our accomplishments as we continue to strive for Texas Tech to be an institution our state and nation can rely on, in providing a world-class education, along with scholarship, research and creative activity that improves the quality of life."