When current enrollment figures were released last month, the University of Texas at Arlington news center published a story under a headline that included the words “unprecedented” and “excellence trajectory” to attract readers’ interest.
Some might wonder if the report would be self-promotional.
While there’s nothing wrong with that — just about every university does it — in this case it’s very likely going to be another understatement of what’s happening at one of the nation’s fastest-growing institutions of higher education.
The numbers are truly impressive.
A fourth consecutive year of record growth finds the on-campus student body approaching 42,000, with online learners expected to increase the global enrollment to 57,000 by the end of the academic year.
To provide some perspective on what that means by comparison across the country, there are 38 states without a university the size of the one in Arlington.
The College of Nursing and Health Innovation and the College of Business account for the largest enrollment increases — a trend certain to continue as both fields, along with the College of Engineering, represent growth industries offering promising, well-paid careers for those who are ready to pursue them.
In academic year 2015-16, the university conferred 11,526 degrees, the third-highest number in Texas.
By producing increasing numbers of graduates each year, UT Arlington has staked a leadership position in meeting the state’s ambitious challenge that 60 percent of young adults have college degrees or certificates by 2030.
Just six months ago, I wrote about the groundbreaking for the $125 million, 220,000-square-foot Science and Engineering Innovation and Research building, made possible by the Texas Legislature and tuition revenue bonds.
Today it is rising out of that ground, with anticipated completion by the summer of 2018.
It is on what used to be one of the school’s largest parking lots.
So, across the street other cranes are busy raising up a 1,500-space parking garage, a new residence hall and dining facility.
Speaking of student housing, there are now about 10,500 beds on or immediately adjacent to the campus.
An additional 1,000 new beds are under construction, and they are all spoken for ahead of completion.
In fact, the proportion of students living on campus or in university-affiliated housing at UTA is now greater than that residing on the grounds of UT Austin.
While old labels are hard to shed, clearly the era of UT Arlington being described as a “commuter school” or “Plan B” option for anybody is long past.
No one explains how all of this momentum is building better than UT Arlington’s President Vistasp Karbhari.
“UTA’s growing student population can be attributed to our tremendously talented and dedicated faculty, enhanced outreach efforts and strong academic advising, which are attracting more high-achieving students to pursue their dreams at UTA.
“Our designation as a Carnegie R-1 institution, the many programs ranked among the nation’s best by U.S. News & World Report, and the recent announcement that UTA has the second lowest average student debt among national universities, along with our sustained increases in enrollment, signify that UTA is indeed an institution of first choice.”
The best part, however, is recognizing that all the recent success is but a forerunner to what comes next.
The old adage of “the best days lie ahead” couldn’t be more appropriately applied anywhere else.
The outcome of all of this is a classic win-win-win-win scenario.
The university wins in achieving its mission, the host city wins with the community’s largest economic generator, the state wins with more skilled and job-ready graduates in professions of high demand, and students win with degrees that prepare them to change the world.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. He serves as an adjunct professor in UT Arlington's graduate program.