THECB Commissioner Visits with UHD Leadership
By Mark Kramer
University of Houston-Downtown President, Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz and key leaders welcomed Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) Commissioner Harrison Keller on Thursday, Jan. 16 for conversations focused on building pathways to success for students.
Keller, who was appointed as THECB commissioner in October, is widely known for his policy efforts to boost students’ success – particularly those from low-income backgrounds or first-generation college scholars. Prior to becoming commissioner, he was a clinical professor of public policy practice at the University of Texas at Austin.
“It was a very productive visit, and Commissioner Keller was able to hear from a wide range of university leadership, including the Student Government Association president and the president of the Faculty Senate,” said Dr. Eric Carl Link, UHD Provost & senior vice president for Academic and Student Affairs. We have a strong relationship with the Coordinating Board and this meeting served as a great introduction to the new commissioner.”
Joining in UHD’s discussion were:
- Stuart Stedman – Chairman, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
- Dr. Eric Carl Link, UHD Provost & Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs
- Dr. Faiza Khoja – Senior Associate Vice President, Academic Affairs and Institutional Effectiveness
- Dr. Jimmy Jung – Vice President, Enrollment Management
- Dr. Jerry Johnson – Associate Vice President, Faculty, Research & Sponsored Programs
- Dr. Michelle Moosally – Associate Vice President, Programming & Curriculum
- Dr. Michael Duncan – President, Faculty Senate
- Jason Smith, Vice Chancellor for Governmental Affairs, University of Houston System
- Shay Tatum – President, UHD Student Government Association
- Dr. Stephen Head – Chancellor, Lone Star College
In his chief executive role for the Coordinating Board, Keller oversees the state's financial aid programs and stewards its strategic plan for higher education, called 60x30TX. The goals of the plan are to ensure at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 will have a certificate or degree from an institution of higher education in Texas by 2030. Additionally, the initiative requires students complete college programs with identified marketable skills.
“We were able to share a number of key initiatives and developments at UHD—including our positive enrollment gains and increases in both student retention and graduation rates,” Link said.
UHD’s graduation rates among first-time in college (FTIC) students have more than doubled in the past five years from 13 percent in 2015 to 29 percent in 2019. Approximately 3,615 total degrees were awarded this past year. In addition, UHD had its largest freshman class ever in fall 2019 with 1,600 students enrolled.
“Our relationship with the coordinating board has matured over the years,” said Khoja. “In keeping with that spirit, the visit allowed us to showcase the programs and initiatives that UHD offers for academic and career success to our FTIC and transfer student population as well as working adults. These programs allow for more opportunities for social and economic mobility and for retooling of skills, respectively.”
Keller also shared with the group about creating more seamless transitions from junior colleges to UHD. Academically, he is striving for a plan where students would focus on courses that are tailored to their pursuits after graduation. UHD currently has partnerships with Houston Community College, Lone Star College, Lee College, San Jacinto College and Wharton County Junior College. More than 3,000 students transferred to UHD last year. Transfer four-year graduation rates have also increased by 10 percent over the past five years.
After Keller’s meeting with the group, he was given a guided tour of the campus by UHD Blue Coat Ambassadors Emerson Romero and Alan Modrow, along with Tatum and SGA Vice President Jason Lillie.
“The meeting with Commissioner Keller was amazing, because we had the opportunity to highlight all of the great things we are doing at UHD,” Tatum said. “I was pleased to see that he wants to ensure that every student that wants an undergraduate or post-secondary degree will have the opportunity and access to achieve their goals.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.