07:29 AM

Academic, Campus Growth Deepens UHD's Footprint in Community

2016 was a year to remember for the University of Houston-Downtown. From new degree programs to an expanded presence in the city, the University was indeed "growing strong."

Among the year's highlights was the purchase of 17 acres of land north of the One Main Building that can serve as a site for numerous amenities, including a new Sciences and Technology building and proposed Sports & Fitness Center. Other possibilities for this area include a plaza for students, ball fields and green space. This site has proven to be a game changer for UHD's Campus Master Plan. Overseeing the plan is DesignLab in the University of Houston's (UH) Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design, which is led by UH professor Patrick Peters.

"These 17 acres are key to creating a new and stronger sense of place for the University along White Oak Bayou, where we can shape a 'north plaza' of public space for the UHD community," Peters said.

Other University gains in 2016 included a strengthened presence in areas outside of the Downtown area. UHD's off-campus centers expanded significantly. UHD Northwest, serving communities in Cypress, Tomball, Spring/Klein, Katy, Waller and The Woodlands grew its academic space by 8,137 square feet. This additional space enabled new classrooms, offices and an education resource center with computers, printers and a library.

UHD Northwest is among the University's campuses providing educational opportunities throughout the Houston area. UHD programs and courses also are available at Lone Star College CyFair and Kingwood. The University's presence at all three of these campuses is made possible through a partnership with Lone Star College.

"UHD has made the commitment to serving the communities in this area of Houston," said Louis D. Evans III, executive director of Off-Campus Locations and Online Coordination. "The demand for higher education in the region has certainly warranted an expansion at this campus. We look forward to continuing to serve more students here and at our other off-campus locations."

UHD serves 1,500 students and delivers 19 undergraduate and three graduate degree programs at its off-campus learning centers. Additionally, students can earn graduate certificates from the College of Business at UHD Northwest.

Campus growth aside, the University also is expanding its academic offerings to prepare students for careers in both education and health care. This spring, UHD's College of Public Service kicked off its new Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences in Early Childhood Education and Family Systems program. The degree addresses a demand for early childhood educators in the state and creates a pathway for teachers seeking opportunities with organizations, such as Head Start and Texas Rising Star.

"We have geared this program to fit the needs of young children and early childhood educators — and that's different," said Beverly Alford, UHD assistant professor of Urban Education. "For many other universities, the focus is elementary school — our program will not just be focused on the kids, it will be focused on the family and the community. This is a huge differentiator and benefit of the early childhood degree program at UHD."

Just as the Early Childhood Education and Family Systems program addresses a need for educators, UHD's forthcoming Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree will help fill a void in the health care workforce. According to the Texas Association of Hospitals, the state could face a shortfall of 70,000 nurses by 2020. UHD's nursing program—that is scheduled to launch in 2018—will be based in the Texas Medical Center at Houston Community College's (HCC) Coleman campus.

In December, UHD and HCC officials signed a letter of intent to create a bridge between nursing programs at both institutions. HCC nursing students can seamlessly continue their studies at UHD.

This partnership is just one of the initiatives creating clear pathways for HCC students transferring to UHD. The institutions' leaders also signed a letter of intent connecting their education programs and a letter of implementation focused on business programs. These agreements complemented an overarching articulation agreement aimed at helping students navigate their way from community college into the University.

"This agreement benefits our University and HCC," said Michael A. Olivas, interim president of UHD. "Most importantly, it will provide students with a distinct advantage, with resources dedicated to their transitions from HCC to UHD."

Another significant area of growth is UHD's College of Business Master of Business Administration program. With 1,067 students, the program was ranked No. 1 by the Houston Business Journal in its round-up of "Largest Houston-Area MBA Programs."

"The College has been successful in determining the needs of working professionals, designing courses that prepare students to drive more immediate value to their employers, and delivering classes in a way that meets their objectives," said Michael Fields, dean of the College of Business.

UHD's MBA program began in 2012 with just 20 students. By fall 2016, its growth warranted a separate graduation ceremony to accommodate more than 200 graduates.

As UHD enters 2017, the Gator community will no doubt use last year's momentum as inspiration to continue on an upward trajectory. According to Olivas, the sky's the limit for the University.

"No longer are we the city's best kept secret," he said. "Great things are happening for UHD, and I expect that trend to continue this year and beyond."