SWT’s Ninth Presidential Investiture: Denise M. Trauth

SWT Strahan Colliseum
February 28, 2003


“Claiming Tomorrow:
A Shared Vision”

By President Denise M. Trauth

This investiture comes at a particularly critical time in the life of our country. Scholars and historians who look back on the first decade of this new century will not be at a loss for labels to put on it. For example, as we look at our economy, this decade truly marks the end of the go-go 1990s. As we look at the impact that terrorism has had on our lives, this is the decade when we Americans came to terms with our vulnerability. As we look at the demographic make-up of our country, this will be the decade during which America will increasingly become a country with no majority race.

Undoubtedly, one of the most important epitaphs that will be written for this time will be one that describes the explosive growth of American higher education and the transformation that occurred throughout our society as a result of that explosion. Today, I would like to focus on this growth and transformation for it is the context that will powerfully impact us as we shape the future of Southwest Texas State University.

First let’s look at sheer numbers. We know that Texas is expecting 500,000 new students to enter higher education during the next 10 to 15 years. That is, 500,000 in addition to the 1.1 million who already are enrolled. This is the first goal of the initiative we call “Closing the Gaps.” Forty percent of these new students are children who would be predicted to go to college: they come from families who see college as the natural next step after high school. But 300,000 of these prospective new students come from families who historically have not viewed college as a necessary ingredient in the development of a young adult. Our goal in this state is to provide seats in college classes not only for those young people whose family history predicts that they will go to college, but also for those who in another era almost certainly would not participate in higher education. Forty years ago this month, SWT was racially integrated. It is fitting that in memory of the brave young women who forced us to open our doors more widely, we pause to reflect on the importance of participation in higher education.

All of us who have benefited from going to college can attest to its transformational effect. A college education changes not only the student, but additionally the student’s close circle within the family, and, in turn, the student’s larger circle of friends and relatives, children and grandchildren.

Ultimately, these changes in individuals transform society as a whole. Not only does the economy change, but more importantly, the democracy in which the college-educated citizen participates is transformed. Texas has a chance at being at the forefront in a movement to educate all of our citizens. But the task is large and daunting.

Southwest Texas State University is a public institution and as such we exist to serve the public. As we look at mapping our future, then, we cannot just look inwardly at our historical roots or at our current centers of excellence. We must look at the needs of Central Texas, of the State of Texas and indeed of our nation in order to determine Southwest Texas’ role in the educational transformation that is before us. And this leads me to the other three parts of the Closing the Gaps initiative, three goals that the State of Texas hopes to achieve by the year 2015 – increasing the number of bachelor’s degrees that we award, increasing the number of nationally acclaimed academic programs that we offer, and increasing the amount of federal funding for research that our schools bring in. These three latter goals of Closing the Gaps haven’t begun to get the attention that the first goal has garnered. Perhaps these three parts do not seem as dramatic as the first – bringing an additional 500,000 young people into our institutions is an awesome aspiration. But I would argue that the other three goals are just as important as the first, given the competitive economy in this country. The four goals taken together are extraordinarily ambitious and visionary. We will either meet them or we will fail to do so; thus Texas will define its future.

Let me share with you why I think higher education in Texas is at such a critical juncture today. With our enrollment of over 25,000 students last fall, Southwest Texas retained our relative ranking as the sixth largest university in Texas. Because Texas is such a big state with so many big undertakings including big universities, it is easy to lose sight of where we stand nationally. So let me put our enrollment in perspective. Twenty-four of the 50 states in this country have no university with an enrollment of our size. And in the states that do have universities with enrollments larger that 25,000, they don’t have many. For example, in Illinois, a state that is emerging at the top of the chart in American higher education, we would be the second largest university; in New York, a state with which Texas increasingly competes, the third.

My comments about the size of SWT are meant as a preface to laying out what I see as one of the biggest obstacles to Texas’ realization of the second, third and fourth goals of Closing the Gaps, and that is a lack of a sense of urgency that more than likely comes from a mistaken understanding of the competitive position of Texas higher education.

If one examines Texas’ universities from a 50,000-foot altitude, we look pretty good. We have 35 public four-year universities. As I said earlier, we have six schools with enrollments in excess of 25,000 and two or three more that are quickly approaching that mark. However, as one gets closer to the ground in this analysis, we see that although Texas has a lot of big universities, it doesn’t compare favorably with other key states with regard to how many of these big universities have the full scope of academic programs and research that one would usually associate with big schools.

I’d like you to come along with me as we bear down on the facts because by so doing we can begin to understand why we might be under the misimpression that Texas is farther along the road to fulfilling those three goals of Closing the Gaps than it actually is.

Let’s come down to a 40,000-foot altitude and look at the size of the Texas economy relative to the size of our population, and our educational attainment. Based on gross domestic product, the economy of Texas is the tenth largest economy in the world. Two states in our country do better than Texas in this ranking: California and New York. Rounding out the list of the five states in this country with the largest economies are Florida and Illinois. That’s pretty good company for Texas. However, as we look beneath this ranking at some other numbers we begin to get less comfortable. New York’s population is smaller than Texas’, but New York has a larger economy.

Among the biggest states in this country, New York and Illinois both have smaller populations than we have in Texas and have a higher college-going rate. In other words, we not only have a larger percentage of people who are not going to college, in Texas, that percentage translates into a very large number of people.When we look at the percentage of citizens who are currently enrolled in higher education we also should get uncomfortable. California has 6.1 percent of its citizens enrolled in higher education. Illinois has 6 percent. New York has 5.6 percent. The U.S. average is 5.4 percent. Texas has 4.9 percent of its citizens enrolled in higher education. 4.9 is a lot lower than California’s 6.1.

In an age when the lifetime earnings of our citizens is directly related to their participation in higher education, these figures should cause us to worry. In an era when knowledge is this country’s most important natural resource, these figures should cause us to worry. And, at a time when the divide between rich and poor is increasing, these figures should cause us to worry.

Let me share with you one data point that came across my desk as I was preparing these remarks. It came from the Austin Community Action Network. In Texas, 33 percent of whites between the ages of 25 and 65 hold a bachelor’s degree. That compares with 14 percent of all other races. If members of all ethnic groups had participated in higher education at the rate of whites, and consequently had the same earnings as whites, the state in the year 2002 would have brought in an estimated $16 billion in additional tax revenues.

Let’s come down one more level and ask the question, how can Texas ensure that we have both an educated workforce and jobs for that workforce? One part of the answer is that we need more universities that are both big in terms of enrollment and big in terms of their role as economic engines for the state. How does Texas stack up? There are two classifications of research universities that we can look at to answer that question.

First, let’s look at the “doctoral-research extensive” universities as cataloged by the Carnegie Foundation in the year 2000. In this country there are 151 universities — public and private — that fall into this category. Often the term “research university” is used to describe these 151 schools. These are the universities that conduct a disproportionate amount of the scholarly work undertaken in this country and account for the vast majority of the doctoral degrees that we confer. California has 12 schools in this category, New York has 14, Illinois has 7 and Texas has 8. If we compare number of research universities to population, Texas is behind New York and Illinois and is about even with California.

However, if we look behind this classification the comparison is not so rosy. Within that 151, there are 87 schools that prior to the year 2000 were called Research I universities. This older nomenclature defined the high-powered research universities, the universities that served as the economic engines for their states. If we look at the list of universities that qualify for this top tier, we see that, in comparison to New York, California and Illinois, Texas has a long way to go. All three of these states are significantly ahead of us in the ratio of Research I universities to population. New York has at least 8, or one for every 2.4 million people. California has at least 10, or one for every 3.3 million people. Texas has two universities in this category. The Closing the Gaps goals suggest that we need two more. However, if we want to catch up to New York, we need to have seven more Research I universities; to catch up to California, four more.

Now let’s put all this together. Texas is the second largest state in terms of population and yet we are 36th in terms of the higher education participation rate. We have the third largest economy in this country and yet we rank 29th in terms of the percentage of our citizens who have attained a bachelor’s degree. We have the third biggest economy, and yet we rank 27th in per capita income. Fortunately, the Closing the Gaps initiative has laid a path for us to take as a state as we seek to change some of these statistics.

There is no question that the leadership of Texas during the next 10 years will be looking to its institutions of higher education for both the economic engines that will keep our state productive in the new economy and for the development of the human capital – knowledge workers – who will be needed to keep that economy moving. We, the community of SWT, want to assume our share of the work to keep Texas competitive. In the weeks and months to come, we will work together to plan our role in increasing educational attainment, our role in increasing the number of nationally acclaimed academic programs, and our role in increasing the research dollars that come to Texas. We at Southwest Texas have come to believe that we have a very special role to play in the future of Texas. We are among the institutions that either will or will not transform the economic base of this state, will or will not prepare our citizens for the complicated issues democracy will pose in this new century, and will or will not create a society that is as inclusive as it is diverse.

And as we increase access and expand academic programs and research productivity, we will look to the leadership of Texas for support. Our state leaders need only to reflect on this nation’s history to draw strength and courage for this massive undertaking. We can look back to see four times when higher education in this country changed dramatically, when leaders stepped up to the plate and our whole country benefited.



The first of these transformational moments in higher education took place in the midst of the Civil War with passage of the Morrill Act, establishing land grant colleges and universities. That law made college available in every state, opened the traditional liberal arts college curriculum to sciences and practical arts, and offered a college education to the non-elite.

Toward the end of that century, the normal school movement picked up energy and ignited another revolution. College was now training elementary and secondary school teachers, a development that further broadened the college curriculum and attracted women and students who could not afford the typical college tuition.

The third transformation, the 1944 G.I. Bill, further democratized higher education. Originally conceptualized to stagger the re-entry of servicemen into the American job market, the GI. Bill in practice brought 2.2 million soldiers to college, almost all of them students who would not have come otherwise. But more than the number of students, the G.I. Bill brought a different kind of student. Veterans were older, more experienced, often married; many were women, some African-American. Vocational and professional enrollments outpaced the traditional liberal arts core. For the third time in 100 years we had seen the concept of who should go to college greatly expand.

The fourth systemic change of higher education is the one in which Southwest Texas played the most direct role. President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Higher Education Act of 1965 on this campus. Coupled with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Higher Education Act opened the doors of American colleges and universities even wider, bringing them within the reach of virtually all sectors of American society.

Looking backwards from the vantage point of the 21st century, we might be tempted to think that these four moments of transformation somehow were inevitable, were obvious, were easy. But that is not the case. Both the land-grant act and the G.I. Bill were passed when times were bleak – in the middle of wars; both were passed by people with foresight and optimism. The normal school movement gained great momentum during the years that America was wracked by the Great Depression. The Higher Education Act was passed during the heat of the civil rights movement. Had this country waited until a perfect time to enact these measures, we would have waited too long. Each was a mechanism that resulted in bringing into higher education women and men whose lives would not have predicted that they would earn college degrees.

Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson all had a vision but all of them knew that they could not realize it alone. And each at a critical time in America's history brought together people who shared their vision in order to realize that vision.

Texas has a vision today of using higher education to fuel the 21st century in the same way that its oil fields fueled the 20th century. But ultimately it comes down not to economic analyses but to our children. In remarks to a conference of education leaders in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson said, “No slogan of democracy, no battle cry of freedom is more stirring than the American parent’s simple statement which all of you have heard so many times: ‘I want my child to go to college.’”

Today’s ceremony opened with an invocation proclaimed by eight children. They asked us the question, “What kind of world will you leave us?” And they ended with the statement, “On this day, you plant our future.” Tomorrow is theirs and yet we are the ones who will shape it. I believe that there has never been a time in the history of this great country when higher education was more important. There has never been a group of children more in need of our colleges and universities. We at Southwest Texas State University stand ready to heed their call: it is indeed time to build their tomorrow.