D-FW's three largest public universities outline push for Tier One status

The region's three largest public universities will add hundreds of jobs and spend millions of dollars over the next decade as they begin their drive to become major research, or Tier One, universities, officials say.

The University of Texas at Arlington, Tarrant County's largest university, hopes to nearly quadruple research spending to $210 million by 2020. Such spending has more than doubled at the campus since 2003, to $55 million last year.

UT-Arlington also expects to add 25 full-time faculty positions and 60 graduate students and staff positions each year over the next decade at an annual cost of more than $4 million. Graduate students typically help with research as part of their education.

UT-Arlington's overall enrollment is expected to jump 25 percent, to 35,000 students from the current 28,000. Tenure or tenure-track faculty positions would total about 900 in 10 years.

The University of North Texas in Denton and the University of Texas at Dallas have similar hiring and expansion plans.

The Tier One drive represents a significant jolt for the local economy, with added jobs, more students and building projects.

And the schools hope that added research will fuel spinoffs to create private companies.

UT-Arlington expects to target programs where it already has some expertise, including medical technology, energy, the environment, transportation, homeland security, aging and forensics, said Jim Spaniolo, the university's president.

"It's ambitious, and it should be ambitious," he said.

The North Texas schools outlined their goals as part of "strategic plans" being submitted to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board today.

The three institutions are among seven state-designated "emerging" universities that officials believe have the best chance of become nationally ranked schools on the level of Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin. In November, voters approved Proposition 4, which allows these schools to compete for about $500 million.

UT-Arlington plans to meet its increased costs with federal and state grants, private fundraising and other sources, Spaniolo said.

UT-Dallas has similar expectations. Over the next 10 years, the school plans to increase enrollment from 15,783 students in 2009 to 22,000; increase full-time faculty from 419 to 610; and boost research spending from $66 million to $130 million.

UNT's report was unavailable Wednesday, but the school expects to increase research spending from about $24 million this year to $125 million in 2020 and increase full-time faculty positions from more than 700 this year to 900 by 2020, said Vish Prasad, UNT's vice president for research and economic development. Half of the new hires will be professors with national reputations and grants, he said.

GENE TRAINOR, 817-390-7419