Arlington

UT Arlington nears status as a top research institution. Why this is a big deal for DFW

The University of Texas at Arlington has reached an important benchmark toward becoming one of Texas top research universities

The University of Texas at Arlington has reached an important benchmark toward becoming one of Texas top research universities. UTA was already identified as one of the emerging research universities.
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The University of Texas at Arlington has reached an important benchmark toward becoming one of Texas top research universities. UTA was already identified as one of the emerging research universities.

Like Texas’ other public institutions, the University of Texas at Arlington has been striving toward becoming a top research school.

It has been one of eight schools — along with the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Dallas — on the state’s list of emerging research universities.

And in 2016, UTA reached R-1 status with Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

Last week, UTA reached another benchmark when one of its professors in the mechanical and aeropsace engineering department, Dereje Agonafer, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. His election met another criteria required to become a top research university.

Currently, Texas Tech, Houston and UT Dallas are on the list.

UTA is not there yet. The benchmarks must be maintained for two years — then UTA can have access to the state’s pool of dollars known as the National Research University Fund.

“Number one it provides us with the recognition close on the heels of UT Dallas,” UTA President Vistasp M. Karbhari said. “It also provides us additional funds to recruit top faculty and maintain the ones we have.”

If UTA passes an audit for the next two fiscal years that it has reached these thresholds, it would eligible for funds in the summer of 2021, said Kelly Carper Polden, a Higher Education Coordinating Board spokeswoman.

Why is it important?

Look no further than the recent recruitment of Amazon’s HQ2, which will no longer be going to New York.

“You see what happened with Amazon,” Karbhari said. “UTA, UTD and UNT were definitely a big attraction to Amazon. Having another Tier 1 university adds to that even more.”

In that effort, DFW fell short and Arlington was eliminated before the final round. But Dallas got a second visit last August..

But some experts argue that there still aren’t enough science, technology, engineering and math workers to lure Amazon or other high-tech companies to DFW.

Karbhari said UTA is addressing those concerns by continuing to graduate engineering students that local companies demand and by new additions such as the SEIR Building (Science & Engineering Innovation & Research), which houses health science projects, including the North Texas Genome Center for biotech and health research.

While UTA’s most direct impact has been to Arlington’s economy, it can influence all of Tarrant County, including help Fort Worth’s efforts to avoid becoming a suburb of Dallas, as a 2017 report spelled out.

“I would hope that this will make people aware that Tarrant County, Fort Worth, Arlington and the DFW Metroplex now have the reputation of having two Tier 1 universities,” Karbhari said.

One of the key goals of Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams is to convince those UTA graduates to stay in the area — not only working for local companies but by starting their own businesses.

“We’ve seen small businesses started here by professors and students. It’s an incredible tool for Arlington and the region.,” Williams said.

UTA has also been growing rapidly — it’s enrollment reached 43,939 this spring, a 2.8 percent gain over the spring semester a year ago and a 28 percent increase over five years ago.

It is growing too fast?

“Growth for the sake of growth is not that important,” Karbhari said. “I would say if there is a need, we will grow larger.”

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Bill Hanna is an award-winning reporter who has covered just about every beat at the Star-Telegram. He currently covers Arlington but also writes about a variety of subjects including weather, wildlife, traffic and health.
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