DALLAS (AP) — Nearly two decades ago, State Representative Helen Giddings and State Senator Royce West helped lay the groundwork for a new four-year college in the heart of South Dallas. .
The Dallas Morning News reports that seeing that dream come to fruition, Giddings said, has been thrilling. Giddings and West recently participated in the grand opening of the University of North Texas at Dallas’ $63 million student center.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Giddings said. “Driving in today, I couldn’t even imagine that hill, that building, and all the students, all the excitement when we started years ago.”
The new 131,000 square foot building – well equipped with a new library and fitness center, and housing the school’s counseling, tutoring and financial aid offices – is yet another sign that the Southeastern Oak Cliff University finds its way.
UNT-Dallas boasts one of the most diverse student bodies in Texas: 85% of its students are Latino or African American, over 70% of UNT-Dallas students are first generation. Most are from middle to low income households and most are from Dallas County.
Enrollment at the school, which officially gained independence as a four-year university in 2009, topped 4,100 in its undergraduate and graduate programs for the first time.
This growth has made the institution the fastest growing public university in the state.
“Now we are involved in the conversation in this town; we’re at the table,” UNT-Dallas President Bob Mong said. “It’s a very different time.”
This new era, in many ways, was sparked by Mong, hired as university president in July 2015 after a 46-year career in journalism, including a long stint as editor of the Dallas Morning News.
Since Mong’s arrival, UNT-Dallas has added 1,600 students, shifting from a majority part-time student body to a younger, majority full-time undergraduate body. The number of graduates from its undergraduate and graduate programs has also increased from 475 in 2015 to 900 in the last academic year.
Such growth in enrollment has propelled the expansion of facilities, staff, and funding.
In addition to the new student center, the university opened another building this summer — a $71 million renovation of the old Dallas City Hall for its burgeoning law school.
The university is hiring 14 new faculty members this year in high-demand areas such as criminal justice and business analytics.
And in the last legislative session, UNT-Dallas received the largest increase in formula funding, 23.8%, of any other higher education institution in the state.
“Look, I’m not a college genius,” Mong said. “There was a collective desire to get out of the startup. But we had been stuck in startup mode for many years: up one year, down the next. Everyone wanted to grow the university. So we had to build trust, involve everyone – students, teachers, staff.
The school found its successes by focusing on “three simple goals,” Mong said: community connectivity, growth and student success.
More than any other four-year university in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, UNT-Dallas’ recruiting efforts are hyper-local. About 90% of its students come from Dallas and its suburbs.
Dallas City Council Member Jaime Resendez, a 2008 graduate, said the mission to serve local students is critical to the city’s future.
After eight years in the military and two years at Eastfield College in the Dallas County Community College District, Resendez said he found a clearer direction at UNT-Dallas. After seeing other students aspiring to pursue higher education, he decided to pursue law school, eventually graduating from the University of Texas Law School.
“It’s incredibly important for people in South Dallas to see this kind of institution in our backyard,” Resendez said. “It allows us to dream big.”
To reach prospective students, UNT-Dallas looks forward to joining and partnering with neighboring school districts, DCCCD, and area businesses, striving to create a smoother journey between graduation high school and high-demand jobs.
West called the university “a catalyst for economic development in the southern sector.”
Those words echoed Mong’s call to prepare graduates for the career to fill high-demand jobs in Dallas.
To that end, UNT-Dallas was the first four-year institution to participate in Dallas County Promise, a program launched by the DCCCD and the Dallas-based nonprofit Commit Partnership to offer a graduate degree. associated free to any secondary school graduate of a majority low level. – high school income. For students desiring a four-year degree, UNT-Dallas extended this tuition-free path for students who had passed community college.
The Promise now has 43 participating high schools — including most Dallas ISD campuses — and reaches nearly 17,000 senior graduates. Currently, UNT-Dallas has 261 Promise students.
“One of the reasons we’re involved is because these are our Tier 1 recruiting high schools,” Mong said. “It made sense for us to be involved.”
Mong and UNT-Dallas have also extended their partnerships to a more personal level.
Brian Lusk, head of strategic initiatives for the Dallas Independent School District, said Mong is fully involved in early high school efforts at Lincoln and Sunset High Schools, attending consultative meetings at those campuses and helping shape the development of colleges. programs.
According to Lusk, Mong played a pivotal role in helping secure two industry partnerships for Lincoln High’s hospitality and logistics career paths: Hyatt Hotels and FedEx.
The university’s integration with the Sunset Collegiate Academy is even more pronounced. UNT-Dallas is an industry partner of Sunset, offering expertise in the academy’s two areas of study: public health and education. The high school is connected to the UNT System Health Sciences Center in Fort Worth. And he’s also part of an innovative collaboration between DISD, DCCCD, and the UNT-Dallas Emerging Teachers Initiative, which is trying to create a pipeline of bilingual teachers from its Spanish-speaking student population.
“They are very mission-focused on the children they serve,” said Todd Williams, President and CEO of Commit. “They realize this challenge ahead of us is too big to solve alone – so they are amazing at partnerships. I think we are blessed in Dallas to have the leaders of Dallas ISD, DCCCD and UNT-Dallas working together , regardless of territory or fiefdoms, essentially doing what they can best for the children.
Another key factor in UNT-Dallas’ growth is its affordability.
Full-time undergraduates taking 15 credit hours per semester will pay approximately $9,100 for the 2019-2020 academic year, making the university one of the most affordable four-year schools in the state.
Given the socioeconomic breakdown of UNT-Dallas, most students are eligible for Pell Grants and Texas Public Education Grants. But Mong and his administration are trying to build an endowment that would provide scholarships and completion assistance to cover any cost discrepancies.
On the day of moving into the school’s only residence, the 120-room Wisdom Hall, new students and student volunteers cited the school’s affordability and proximity to home as the main reasons why they attended UNT-Dallas.
“I wanted to be close to home, and it worked out perfectly for me,” said Jacob Hurd, a freshman from Lancaster.
Vilma Trevino, a North Mesquite High School senior studying criminal justice, transferred after two years to Eastfield College. She looked at other options — Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin and Texas State — but decided staying closer to home was the best option. This allowed her to keep her job as an office assistant with charter operator Nova Academy and cut costs by avoiding room and board at another school.
“It’s as affordable as it gets,” Trevino said. “I don’t graduate with student debt. I think that’s the main part. When you go out and start looking for a job that covers your student loans, house, car and all, it’s tough given the way the economy is doing. So, it is essential to look for colleges that are within your budget.
Maria Martinez, a graduate accounting student from North Dallas High School, found her way to UNT Dallas after working at DCCCD’s Richland College and the University of Texas at Dallas.
Going to school at UTD “took a lot longer, because I was trying to do it debt-free,” Martinez said. “Working full time and going to school part time, taking a course here and there, I was never going to finish.”
Giddings, who helped sponsor the 2001 bill that led to the creation of UNT-Dallas, said last month’s celebration was proof that there was “a real need for this university, so that students who otherwise could not afford it can continue their studies”. college degrees.”
“It sounded like a noble idea. It looks like it’s going to be very hard. But the response of these students – and this community – made it possible.