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Khator lauds UH enrollment, growing reputation, med school plans in annual speech

October 10, 2018

Enrollments are up, achievement gaps are shrinking and perceptions about the University of Houston are changing for the better, President Renu Khator said Wednesday in her Fall Address.

The president, who has been with the university since 2008, told a crowd of donors and staff members at the school’s Moore Opera House that the university’s growing prominence helped it jump 21 spots in one year on the U.S. World & News Report’s annual rankings, from 192 to 171, and has led to growing enrollments and a more engaged student body.

Khator also used the annual speech Wednesday morning to give an update on UH’s efforts to establish a college of medicine, a move that could further bolster the school’s reputation in the state and across the nation.

She said Texas’ Higher Education Coordinating Board is scheduled to take action on UH’s application for its medical school later this month, and that about 35 officials are working to finish an application for national accreditation by December.

If all goes according to plan, Khator said the medical school could be fully accredited by 2019, and could welcome its first class of students in the fall of 2020.

“It is possible for us to introduce a program in medicine and help do what this university has always done - serving the people and the community,” Khator said.

While an anonymous donor has provided $3 million to pay the inaugural class’s tuition, gaining full accreditation for the school will be no easy feat.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes has bemoaned the growth of academic programs at colleges statewide, instead pleading for schools to focus on improving the programs they already operate.

“We are expanding academic programs faster than the Legislature is even willing or able to support appropriately,” he told higher education leaders in 2017, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “Unless we put a brake on expansion of programs, we are going to dilute the limited resources we have still more, and that’s a certain recipe for statewide mediocrity. Frankly, we have an awful lot of mediocre academic programs in Texas.”

The Coordinating Board approved a doctorate program in osteopathic medicine at Sam Houston State University in August.

Khator also announced that the University of Houston’s Engineering Research Building will be named after Durga D. and Shushila Agrawal after the couple made a sizable donation to the college. The Agrawals did not want the amount donated to be publicized, but UH Spokesman Chris Stipes said naming buildings after folks typically comes as a result of “multi-million dollar gifts.”

Much of Khator’s address focused on a jump in the university’s national ranking, growing enrollments, rising graduation rates and some narrowing achievement gaps at the school.

She also lauded changing perceptions of the university, which she said were driven by hosting national events, such as a Republican presidential debate in 2016, investing more in research, hiring nationally acclaimed professors and improving athletic performances.

“Everything we do makes a difference in changing the perception,” Khator said. “When we represent UH on national boards and committees, we make a statement about the university. When we publish, perform and win, we make a statement about the university. When we wear red and stand tall, we make a statement about the university.”

She said about 46,300 students are enrolled at the flagship campus and, for the first time, more freshmen are enrolled than transfer students.

Achievement gaps evidenced by graduation rates also have improved, the president said. The four-year graduation rates for African-American students is now two percentage points shy of the graduation rates for white students, shrinking from a 10 percent gap found in the class of 2017. There now is no difference in the six-year graduation rate from Pell Grant recipients, who come from lower income households, to students who do not receive the federal assistance.

Overall, the four-year graduation rate in 2018 rose to 36.3 percent, up from about 20 percent in 2013. Similarly, the six-year graduation rate rose from just shy of 50 percent in 2013 to 59.4 percent this year.

“It is rewarding that both 6- and 4-year graduation rates have gone up,” Khator said. “But it is even more gratifying that the achievement gap because of race, income or family education has been reduced and even eliminated in some cases.”

Financial aid disbursements also have increased from $314 million in 2013-2014 to $364 million in 2013-2014, Khator said. In addition, tuition has been waived for qualified students whose annual family income is $45,000 or less, and Khator said that cap will rise to $50,000 in 2019.

Tuition overall, however, has risen by more than 50 percent at the school since Khator came to the university.

shelby.webb@chron.com

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