Enrollment and the University of Houston-Downtown Campus Master Plan were just two of the items addressed by UHD President, Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz during the recent Staff Council Town Hall Meeting.
On Feb. 14, President Muñoz addressed staff members in UHD’s Milam and Travis Rooms and also shared insights on the institution’s remaining Harvey recovery work and recent fundraising achievements.
His presentation began with a recap of the Texas legislators who have visited UHD to observe damage following Harvey, as well as its recovery. Last fall, Sen. John Whitmire, Sen. Borris Miles, Rep. Carol Alvarado, Rep. Armando Walle and Sen. Eddie Lucio visited with students and toured the University. Recently, members of the House Committee on County Affairs also toured UHD.
“It’s important they’re here,” Muñoz said, referring to the continued presence of legislators at UHD. “It’s important that they’re on our campus and are seeing the damage … and interacting with you. In a few months, when they’re discussing which institutions need support in our state, they will be able to speak in specific terms about UHD.”
Staying on the topic of Harvey, Muñoz referenced UHD’s successful fundraising efforts, which included gifts to support members of the campus community affected by Harvey. These gifts included $100,000 from Strada Education Network/City of Houston Office of Education/Greater Houston Community Foundation; $25,000 from Scholarship American and $60,000 raised for the Gator Relief Fund. All of these funds are dedicated to supporting students affected by Harvey. UHD also received nearly $300,000 from the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund (supported by the Greater Houston Community Foundation) to assist students who withdrew during the fall semester as a result of Harvey.
He also referenced additional support for students recovering from Harvey such as providing low-cost refurbished computers and laptops to those who lost their electronics in the storm, and $50 Barnes and Noble gift cards.
“We were able to positively affect hundreds of lives at this campus. This is what makes UHD extraordinary,” Muñoz said. “By helping these students, we help them go on to become sheriffs, school board trustees, business leaders, legislators, and achieve new levels of success.”
Muñoz also addressed UHD’s expanded footprint and the need for more spaces for students to socialize and study. He cited the recent renovation of the Student Lounge and the construction of the Sciences & Technology Building, which is on track for completion by fall 2019. He also addressed a proposed Student Wellness & Success Center, which is still in the planning stages. Muñoz said that UHD needed a new facility that would better accommodate the needs of the campus community.
“It will be a place that promotes wellness and success for our students, as well as faculty and staff,” he said.
Citing the newly paved trails near UHD, Muñoz said that the University’s proximity along the bayou is a favorable location. He indicated that both the UHD community and area partners should conceptualize how the bayou can be better utilized as a resource or local landmark.
“San Antonio’s Riverwalk was not always the tourist attraction it is now,” he said. “There are other universities that would gladly lift their campuses and place them along the bayou. We’re already here, so let’s think about how to use these bayous to add to the gravitas of our campus.”
Muñoz also delivered a snapshot of UHD’s enrollment, which he said had declined over the past three years, due primarily to strengthened admission requirements. These lower enrollments are problematic for future funding, he said.
“When enrollment goes down, resources become impacted,” he said. “A decrease in enrollment and semester credit hours creates a serious financial consequence.”
Enrollment had been buoyed for the past few years by the unprecedented growth of a graduate program. That program’s rapid growth, however, has plateaued, Muñoz said.
“Enrollment management, enrollment persistence and success must become everyone’s responsibility,” he said. “When you see a student who may need guidance in finding a classroom or seeking assistance, help that person out. Be mindful of how you can help our students and inspire them to be successful at UHD regardless of your official role.”
To address the enrollment issue, Muñoz said that UHD must intensify its recruitment and retention efforts.
“We have to target both current students and transfer students,” he said. “Other universities, including those from other states, are recruiting in Houston. Those institutions are discovering a rich pool of students in this area. I’m fine competing with them. UHD has a niche, a value and a proven record. It’s important that we continue our relationships with institutions from which we receive our transfer students … Houston Community College (HCC), Lone Star College (LSC) and others. The relationships we’ve cultivated for years must be re-cultivated.”
Continued visits to HCC and LSC campuses are beneficial to bolstering these relationships, Muñoz said. Additionally, embedded advising at these institutions is essential in helping students follow a seamless pathway from community college directly to UHD. He added that he also is building bridges with area high schools. High schools that Muñoz recently visited include Milby High School, Austin High School and East Early College High School, among others.
“For many of these high school students I am meeting, UHD is the best option,” he said. “We have to make them aware that UHD is an excellent fit for them personally, academically and financially.”
Muñoz closed the Town Hall with an update on enhancements made to UHD’s safety and security processes. He referenced the addition of security officers at entry points to UHD buildings, , the recent promotion of several officers, and the addition of a new lieutenant. He also announced that UHD is moving to acquire Segway vehicles to assist officers in patrolling the campus.
Before concluding his presentation, Dr. Muñoz acknowledged the importance of staff to UHD’s ongoing mission and reminded everyone that promoting student success and enhanced enrollment are crucial.
“We all must be cognizant of how enrollment impacts revenue, persistence, success and reputation,” he said. “I know you all are working hard to address this issue, and I couldn’t be more impressed by everyone in this room … and I couldn’t be more optimistic about the future of UHD.”