Breaking Ground on the Center for the Musical Arts

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the Center for the Musical Arts, I was joined by elected officials and other UT Tyler administration and faculty for a ceremonial turning of the soil. Pictured (from left) are Vice President of Administration Jesse Acosta, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Ross Sherman, Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management Chip Clark, Tyler Mayor Martin Heines, me, U.S. Representative  Louie Gohmert, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Martin Slann and  Director of the School of Performing Arts Dr. Michael Thrasher.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the Center for the Musical Arts, I was joined by elected officials and other UT Tyler administration and faculty for a ceremonial turning of the soil. Pictured (from left) are Vice President of Administration Jesse Acosta, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Ross Sherman, Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management Chip Clark, Tyler Mayor Martin Heines, me, U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Martin Slann and Director of the School of Performing Arts Dr. Michael Thrasher.

I was excited to join members of the UT Tyler family and our community on Jan. 29 as we celebrated the groundbreaking for the new Center for the Musical Arts. The groundwork has now begun on an addition to the Cowan Center that will provide state-of-the-art rehearsal and practice facilities for our rapidly growing music program.

The approximately 20,000 square-foot addition will pave the way for future growth, particularly in the area of instrumental music.

I want to thank all of those who joined us for the event. It was an honor to be able to address many of our friends and supporters as we celebrated the beginning of an outstanding new project.

Congratulations Graduates!

This weekend, I will have the privilege of shaking the hands of more than 1,000 graduates as they cross the stage. After more than 17 years as president of this unique institution, I never tire of watching the joy on our graduates’ faces as they celebrate the completion of their degrees.

I know that each of you graduating over the next two days has a different story to tell. No matter your circumstances, the journey to this weekend has required hard work and certainly there has been some difficulty mixed with the joys of accomplishment along the way. Each of you is an inspiration to me, to the faculty and staff of this institution, and to this community.

IMG_0452Your hard work has not gone unnoticed, and I commend you for your dedication.

The journey to complete a degree is challenging. That is why I want you each to understand how very proud we are of you and what you have accomplished.

Every employee of this institution, no matter what role they play, is here for a single purpose: to help you get to this day. We are honored to have helped you along in your journey and wish the very best for you as you move on to do more, produce more and help others in your lives.

I know you will accomplish great things, and hope you will keep in touch with our Alumni Association so that we can celebrate with you as you go on to build successful lives.

Congratulations, UT Tyler Class of 2014.

Is a College Education Worth It?

A 20-second Google search for “Is a college education worth it?” demonstrates, sadly, that the value of higher education is hotly debated. The search generates more than 200,000 results.

U.S. News and World Report has a page dedicated to the debate. The New York Times issued a strong “yes” in May. The Economist chimed in last spring less enthusiastically, saying some degrees pay off much more than others.

As a university president, I clearly believe there is significant value in a college education. My opinion is based on hard data regarding better jobs and incomes as well as seeing and hearing the success stories of thousands of our graduates. I have talked to numerous alumni from this university who tell me the education they received contributed greatly to their success.

Critics of higher education claim the value of a degree is decreasing or that a degree isn’t necessary to be successful in today’s job market.

To help decide if either of those views is a valid concern, I decided to put myself in the place of a recent graduate and look for a job. I went to and began my search.

I’m an economist by trade, but I didn’t want to narrow my job options because our students choose a variety of fields, so I built the following search parameters for my new job:

  • Requiring 0-2 years of experience
  • Full-time
  • In Texas
  • Salary greater than $50,000 a year— the U.S. Census Bureau reported the median household income in Texas in 2012 at $51,926.

To test job availability by educational level, I conducted two searches, one for jobs requiring only a high school diploma and one for those requiring a bachelor’s degree. This was the breakdown—remembering that will display a maximum of 1,000 job openings for any search:

  • High school diploma: 484 jobs
  • 4-year degree: 1,000 jobs

The job openings displayed maxed out the system for jobs requiring a university degree! Fewer than half that constrained number of 1,000 were listed for jobs requiring only a high school diploma.

I then searched again using the same set of parameters except raising the income requirement to $80,000 per year. The result this time was a total of 980 jobs. However, the education gap was much wider. More than 83% of those positions available required a bachelor’s degree.

I understand I am simplifying the process a bit. Several additional factors—such as university, field of study, professional connections, and “soft skills” such as demeanor and conduct—make a significant difference for a recent graduate coming into the market and can assist those students in landing better jobs.

However, looking at these searches, one thing becomes clear: Having a degree still gives you a major advantage when entering the job market.

The Pew Research Center published incomes for young workers ages 25-32. The median annual income for U.S. workers in that age group with a bachelor’s degree is $45,500. For those with a high school diploma it’s $28,000.

And that difference only grows over time. Indeed, over a lifetime of work it is still truth that a typical university graduate will earn $1 million more than a high school graduate.

There is no doubt that education is still worth it.

What does it really mean to do more with less?

Americans often hear how governmental agencies, higher education institutions, and even households have learned to “do more with less” over the past few years.

In higher education, “doing more with less” is used to describe how universities are required to meet an increasing demand for new programs, technology, services and accountability while also facing a decrease in state funding per student.

In recent years, the state funding model has changed. As legislators experience increased pressure to spend on a growing number of state needs, higher education has received smaller and smaller pieces of the Texas budget.

In 1995, UT Tyler received 49% of its total funding from state appropriations. Today, that’s down to 34%.

One of the charges leveled at universities is that tuition is increasing faster than inflation. While it is true that tuition has increased, those increases are largely due to the drastic drop in state funding per student. In fact, the net result of those two opposing trends (rising tuition and falling state funding per student) has been a decrease in total university revenue per student.

Components of Total Operating Revenue BudgetFor example, according to UT System calculations, UT Tyler received $10,967 in state funding per student in 2001-02. Add to that our net tuition revenue per student of $2,404, and our total revenue per student was $13,371.

Ten years later, in 2011-12, state funding per student had dropped to $6,238 and net tuition revenue had increased to only $4,586 per student for a total of $10,824. We talk about doing more with less. How about $2,500 less per student?

During that 10-year time period we have worked diligently to build the programs and services necessary to provide quality educational opportunities. Our students asked for additional facilities and programs, so we added several buildings, including the David G. and Jacqueline M. Braithwaite Building for nursing, the Bill Ratliff Engineering and Sciences Complex, a campus health clinic and the Ornelas Residence Hall.

We implemented two Ph.D. programs while also expanding the number of graduate and undergraduate programs. We have created the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Ben and Maytee Fisch College of Pharmacy.

Just in the past two years, UT Tyler has added new technology to enhance online learning and implemented academic support programs such as peer tutoring. Those of us at this institution certainly understand the challenges facing families in East Texas today. We are working as diligently as possible to give our students the technology and programs they need without putting undue financial burden on those students.

Although tuition has increased over the last decade as a result of the drop in state funding per student, we have attempted to keep those increases at a reasonable level while still maintaining a quality product. Our tuition has not increased nearly enough to offset state redistribution in per-student funding.

So, as you can see, we are truly doing more with less.

Looking Back at 2013-14

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry

During a recent interview, I was asked to identify some highlights of my 16 years as president. I don’t think the interviewer was expecting such a long answer, but it was difficult to limit my response to just a few items.

I realized later that had her question been regarding the highlights of the past year, my answer would have been just as difficult to pare down. Years from now, as I look back on my career, I will remember 2013-14 as a truly remarkable time for this university.

We have had a year filled with great beginnings and landmark accomplishments, thanks to the dedication, hard work and generosity of our university family and friends.

Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the groundbreaking for W.T. Brookshire Hall, the future home of the Ben and Maytee Fisch College of Pharmacy. This is a landmark project in the history of this university. I am immensely proud of this undertaking and of the dedicated staff, faculty, administrators, elected officials, community members and corporations who supported the formation of East Texas’ first college of pharmacy.

During the past year, we also conducted our first foray into a teaching model that places the lecture portion of a course online and earmarks classroom time for practical application of that lecture material. The the first year of our Patriots Applying Technology for Success and Savings (PATSS) program was a success. In the fall, we will be offering more than 60 courses in the new HyFlex format—which I have talked about before in blog posts. Before we start the 2014-15 academic year, 56 faculty members will have been trained to teach PATSS courses.

Classes at the Houston Engineering Center started last fall with 50 students, and we are expecting enrollment to double for the coming fall. The center—which is housed at Houston Community College’s Alief-Hayes campus—has an immense potential to help meet the growing need for engineers in the Houston area and around the state.

We have also added a new housing option for our students. Eagle’s Landing, formerly the Village at the U apartments, on Old Omen Road is now the property of and managed by UT Tyler. This purchase allows us to offer additional students the benefits of residential life.

In addition, we have been recognized on a national and international scale for the performance of our students, the success of our academic and service programs and the excellence of our athletics. Students and faculty in chemistry, debate, Model United Nations, basketball, softball, tennis, golf, track, nursing, education, art and countless other areas have earned high accolades this academic year.

Being president of this institution means there is never a dull moment, because there is always something new to be celebrated and fresh challenges to conquer. Area employers repeatedly tell me that our graduates are second to none. That takes a lot of dedication from our students, faculty and staff. We are all part of this small city that is UT Tyler, and we each play a vital role.

Indeed, 2013-14 was an amazing year at UT Tyler. I am honored to be a part of this institution and always humbled by the dedication of those who wish to see this university grow.

I’m looking forward to seeing what 2014-15 holds.

Honoring our Distinguished Alumni

Former Illinois Wesleyan University President Dr. Minor Myers, Jr., once said during a commencement speech, “Go into the world and do well.  But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry

That is what I desire for our students.  Over the years, I have seen many of our alumni go out into the world and accomplish great things.  I take pride in knowing that this institution was part of their success.

A few hundred of our alumni will be gathered on campus this weekend for our annual Alumni & Friends Awards Gala.  It’s a sold out event. I am looking forward to seeing so many of those who call this university their alma mater.

Our alumni may have attended this university in the past, but they are also a critical part of our future.  They are the legacy of this institution, the ones who will preserve the spirit of UT Tyler for years to come.  We have a special environment here, and it just shows in the number of former students who are dedicated to becoming successful and to supporting this university.

To those who are among our alumni, your success can be a stepping stone and an inspiration for those who follow you out of this institution.  I encourage you to remain involved, because by staying in touch you can make valuable connections as well as make a difference to those just starting their professional careers.

At the gala on Saturday, we will honor three alumni who embody this university’s spirit of excellence.

Our Distinguished Alumni Awards are presented to those who have distinguished themselves in their professional achievements, contributions to society and support of the university.

Go into the worldDistinguished Alumna Dawn Franks earned a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science from UT Tyler in 1979 and 1989, respectively.  She currently serves as the executive director of the Ben and Maytee Fisch Foundation.  Dawn is a genuine advocate for this university and for philanthropy in this community.  In addition to working with a variety of organizations to help them secure funding, she also provides countless hours of support and coaching to area non-profits.

Distinguished Alumnus David L. King earned a master of business administration from UT Tyler in 1983.  He serves as president of CB&I Engineered Products – a global technology, engineering and construction organization, which as part of the global CB&I organization has more than 50,000 employees worldwide.  He has 40 years of experience in the arena of technology, engineering, procurement, design, fabrication and construction of energy-related projects.

This year’s Distinguished Young Alumnus is Michael Wysocki.  After earning a bachelor of science in political science from UT Tyler in 2003, he later became a family law litigator/partner with the McCurley, Orsinger, McCurley, Nelson and Downing LLP Family Law Practice in Dallas.  He has been listed several times as a Texas Rising Star, an annual listing for the top young attorneys in Texas. He is also the youngest associate in his firm’s history to be named partner.

As you can see, we have some truly successful individuals among our alumni.  Each of those being honored, and each of our thousands of alumni, is part of a growing force that has weight both here in Tyler and in the areas beyond.  Without their support of this institution, much of what we do would not be possible.

UT Tyler Debate – a Tradition of Excellence

My favorite part of speaking to outside audiences is bragging about our high-performing students. Over the past few years, the UT Tyler Debate Team has given me plenty to talk about. Our debaters have been a force on the national level, placing among the country’s top teams year after year. I am proud of what they have accomplished. Congratulations!

We will all be cheering them on in March as the group competes in two national events. The seven students and Dr. Chuck Walts will be traveling to Flagstaff, Arizona, for back-to-back tournaments starting March 15.  The first tournament, the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE), is by invitation only. The winner of that event, Dr. Walts tells us, is seen as the top debate team in the country.

Immediately following the NPTE is the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) tournament. That tournament also contains some of the best teams in the nation.

Dr. Walts says this is the best season the team has ever had. In particular, the special dedication and outstanding performance of sophomore political science major Kaitlyn Bull of Powderly and freshman social sciences major Sam Cook of Flint have contributed to this year’s high national ranking.

Bull and Cook placed second overall at a recent tournament held in San Diego, California, that is considered one of the premiere events in parliamentary debate. They are currently ranked 16th in the nation by the NPTE. Another UT Tyler pair, Dallas Flick and Carver Hodgkiss, is ranked 41st.

In addition, Bull also received an award for being one of the top five speakers at the tournament, which showcases some of the best debaters in the country.

In other posts, I have talked about the importance of being able to speak well. UT Tyler’s top tier debate team is a perfect example of how development of strong communication skills is something we do.

I have no doubt that these students will succeed in life. I wish them the best of luck in Arizona.

In addition, since the current group is made up of one junior, two sophomores and one freshman, I look forward to seeing what they accomplish next year.

Pursuing Excellence as a University Man or Woman – a Note to Students – Part 3

In the world of business, many of the characteristics we have discussed in this series fall under the label “soft skills.” That term can be roughly defined as the personality traits that characterize a person’s ability to interact with others. I want to detail from a career perspective just how important is it to develop these skills.

  • The need for soft skills is vital enough that the lack of them in recent college graduates has garnered articles in publications such as Time, Businessweek and Forbes.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor has a web page dedicated to aiding workers in soft skill development. It’s aimed at young people transitioning into the workforce.
  • In fact, in a November article on Time’s business website, 60 percent of employers said they could not find applicants with the necessary communication and interpersonal skills.
  • A second survey, by staffing company Adecco, was quoted in the same Time article as stating “44 percent of (employers) cited soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration as the area with the biggest gap.”

Your ability to communicate with others and to perform tasks in a group environment – skills you often practice in the classroom – will have a real-world impact on your professional life.

Becoming a university graduate is truly a goal few accomplish. Only 18 percent of Texas adults have a university degree, 16 percent in the Tyler area. You have the potential to make a real difference in the world. As we discussed in my last two posts, your success will come just as much from developing depth of character as it does from excelling in the classroom.

True university men and women understand the importance of excelling beyond your GPA. If you dedicate yourself to acquiring the skills I have discussed in this series, you will find yourself pursuing an excellence of character that will be vital to your success.

Never quit on a project, learn all you can, and always grow in wisdom, knowledge and skills.  Do those things and you’ll not only have a successful career, but you’ll make a difference in the world.

You will be a true university man or woman.

Pursuing Excellence as a University Man or Woman – A Note to Students – Part 2

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry

In my last post I gave a list of characteristics that a University Man or Woman should display. I will admit it was a long list. Developing the qualities necessary to be a successful individual is not easy. It takes perseverance, dedication and time.

What I want to tell you today is that the effort is worth it. Many of you are already well along on the road to becoming university men and women—and that means something.

Believe it or not, here at UT Tyler we work to equip you with both the knowledge you need for your job field and the skills you need to be able to succeed in the workplace and in society.  All you need to do is remember that some of the tasks you may not enjoy often teach you the most important skills.

1. Write, write, write, write.  The ability to communicate on paper is essential in every job.

  • Yes, I did say every job.  If you are an engineer, you will still need to write reports.  If you are a nurse, you will need to be able to write updates on a patient’s condition.  If you are in education, you will write regular emails to parents, principals, district administrators and other audiences.
  • No matter what your job description is, writing will be a part of it.  So learn to write concisely, descriptively, and with as few errors as possible.
  • Don’t just rely on autocorrect or spell check.  We’ve all seen what funny errors can result from letting a computer do your writing for you.  There are whole websites dedicated to those errors.  Don’t end up on one of them.

2. Learn to shake a hand and discuss your ideas.  If you are that person in class who is always in the middle of a discussion with the professor, congratulations.  You will probably be supervising many of your quieter classmates someday.

  • Learning when to talk and when to listen will hone your communication skills and make you a vital employee.
  • In fact, in a November article in Forbes, author Dan Schawbel said when his company interviewed employers about traits they look for when hiring students, 98 percent said “communication skills.”
  • So learn to speak to others, build strong presentations, and share your thoughts orally and in the written word.
  • Warren Buffet once said to a group of business students that communication skills increase an employee’s value by 50 percent.

Your word is your bond quote

3. Develop a strong work ethic.  Your word is your bond.  If an employer can trust youto be there every day at 8 a.m. and work diligently until 5, you’ve got a much better chance of having a future with that company.  And even if you don’t want to stay in that job, still keep that ethic.  You never know when you will need the bridge you didn’t burn.

4. Develop the four cardinal virtues.  The idea of four main virtues is not new.  The Greek philosophers—Socrates to Plato to Aristotle—as well as many philosophers since have spoken about the importance of developing the following traits:

  • Temperance – which means self-control, moderation, the ability to abstain from things that distract you from your main goal
  • Courage – Endurance, the ability to confront fear, uncertainly and intimidation.  We are all afraid at times.  Just don’t let it get the best of you and you will do fine.
  • Practical wisdom, also called prudence – The ability to assess the consequences of your actions and act appropriately.
  • Justice – the idea that we all get exactly what we earn, and that we should all fight to make sure we all earn our keep.

Dedicate yourself to these goals, and you will be well on your way toward being a true university man or woman.