UTSA: The Path to Tier One

In 2009, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) named UTSA one of seven universities to compete for funding and the status of Tier One, giving it the title “Upcoming Research University.” To propel its path toward Tier One, UTSA increased its admission and research standards.
Texas has only three Tier One universities: the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and Rice University. Universities are categorized as Tier One if they receive no less than $100 million annually in research funding, have admission selectivity, low student-faculty ratios and high quality faculty members.
These universities receive at least $100 million each year in research grants, have selective admissions and low student-faculty ratios and competitive faculty salaries.
In an effort to increase the likelihood of Tier One status universities in Texas, Texas lawmakers created a competition in which the seven chosen schools could compete for over $600 million dollars in funding and with that, outside funding donations and some research grants would be matched by the state.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like for students, but I can tell you that the pace of change here compared to other institutions that I’m familiar with is tremendously fast,” said Dr. John Frederick, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “It’s very gratifying to be in an institution that’s willing to take on that change and do it in a thoughtful and graceful way.”

To achieve Tier One status, UTSA must increase its acceptance standards.
Starting in Fall 2013, students from the top 25 percent of their class will be automatically admitted.
From the 2012-2013 academic year to the 2013-2014 academic year, admission requirements for incoming freshmen from the second 25 percent of their graduating class increase by roughly 17 percent. For example, the required score for the SAT rose from 960 to 1100, while the ACT score rose from 20 to 24.
According to Frederick, UTSA should not expect anymore drastic admission changes, as UTSA has changed its standards three times in the past six years, which is unusual for universities.
“The top 25 percent is the group we want to target out of high school,” Frederick said. “But there are those in the next 25 percent that we think can succeed and contribute to student life here at UTSA. I think you’ll see us move more and more away from anybody that’s in the bottom half of their high school class, though.”
According to the Graduation Rate Improvement Plan (GRIP), UTSA aims for an acceptance rate of 40.2 percent by 2021, meaning that only 40.2 percent of applicants in that year would be accepted to the university.
Of the UT System schools, UTSA ranks fifth in lowest acceptance rate with a rate of 73 percent, following UT-Pan American with 62 percent, UT-Arlington with 59 percent, UT-Dallas with 52 percent and UT-Austin with 47 percent, according to College Board.
UTSA’s acceptance rate is currently 73 percent, down from almost 100 percent in 1990s and early 2000s, and has since dropped from 78.84 percent in 2010, according to THECB Access and Equity report.
Frederick’s reasoning is that as UTSA begins to accept more and more top 25 percent students and move away from the bottom quartiles, only those top students will begin applying, thus changing the diversity of the pool of applicants.
“I have to say that’s something really difficult to predict,” Frederick said of the 40.2 percent acceptance rate. “As we raise admission standards, we’ll attract a different sort of student applicant and that will affect that acceptance rate in ways that we can’t necessarily project.”
“If we assume the mixture (of applicants) is the same as it is right now, then, yes, that acceptance rate would go down,” said Frederick.
UTSA’s enrollment rate of top 10 percent students has roughly ranged from 30-35 percent, according to the same report. And according to GRIP predictions, it will stay the same in the future, with a prediction of 29.9 percent in 2021.
Apart from the acceptance rate and increasing admission standards, the Coordinated Admission Program (CAP), which allows students to attend UTSA before meeting requirements to transfer to UT-Austin, must be considered.
Once deemed to phase-out in the following years, CAP students’ ties with UTSA will end sooner than expected.
“It’s actually a little more abrupt than a phase-out,” Frederick stated. “I think we’re going to discontinue it after this coming year.”
According to Frederick, UT-Arlington’s decision to end its participation in the program and UT-Austin’s interest to disband it moved UTSA toward this resolution.
“My guess is that after there are very few schools left that are participating in the CAP program, UT-Austin will be able to unplug it completely,” said Frederick.
The termination of the program overall requires UT System regent approval, while regent approval is unnecessary for UTSA to end its participation.

Apart from admission standards, students and faculty should expect academic change as well.
UTSA is condensing some degrees and constructing others to better serve the university. Because of low participation, UTSA will offer more general degrees with room for specialization, something that Frederick believes will make it easier to maintain for the university, while still having some majors accessible to students as specializations.
“Every college is constantly looking for new programs that are going to meet the needs of their students,” said Frederick.
A degree in modern languages is now offered in place of specified foreign languages, such as German or French. Students can still pursue a specific language, but now under the more umbrella-styled degree program.
Some music specializations will move to the umbrella-styled degree also. The classics degree, with little enrollment, was recently combined with humanities, as well.
Recently added degrees include a new bachelors degree in public administration and a bachelors in public health. A joint program was moved from the Health Science Center, so UTSA now offers a bachelors in nutrition and masters in dietetic studies.
Another degree “that’s very exciting is a Global Affairs degree that our political science and geography department is putting together,” said Frederick.
A new department of entrepreneurship and technology management in business was created, which Frederick suspects will lead to new degree plans in the future, while possible certificate programs may emerge in the engineering field.
“It’s part of the obligation of the university to stay current and continue to offer things that students need,” said Frederick.

In addition to offering new degrees, UTSA will be implementing new courses in the core curriculum aimed at helping freshmen prepare for the college experience.
Working under the direction of Frederick, a Freshman Experience Task Force was charged with simplifying the freshmen transition to college. The task force ultimately decided to reshape the Core Curriculum, determining that only a math and composition course were “absolutely fundamental to success in a student’s curriculum, regardless of their major,” according to the university’s website.
Many students have already been required to take Q courses, which are part of a larger Quality Enhancement Plan to make existing courses have a stronger emphasis on communication and quantitative reasoning skills. Q courses “seek to develop quantitative reasoning skills of its undergraduates by increasing contextual learning and advance student knowledge of data analysis,” according to UTSA’s website.
“All students must meet a Q requirement and take a Q course in order to graduate,” said Assistant Vice Provost Nancy Martin, who oversees the Core Curriculum at UTSA. “So we’re trying to grow the number of courses that have that Q de
UTSA will offer 24 Q Courses next year, compared to the 18 of the 2012-2013 school year.
UTSA will also be introducing an Academic Inquiry Course to help students adjust to the structure and expectations of a college lifestyle. According to Martin, the course would help demonstrate how college is different than high school, notably that where a high school would simply teach knowledge, research universities “create knowledge.”
“The general purpose of that course is to introduce students to the university,” Martin stated. “The Academic Inquiry and Scholarship Course is intended to introduce students to how it is that various disciplines conduct research: how do they approach it how do they think about it?”
According to the Graduation Rate Improvement Plan, only 41.6 percent of students at UTSA were estimated to make it to their fourth year at the university. Since the GRIP was implemented that number is expected to rise to over 66 percent of students by 2021.
By easing freshmen into the expectations of a university while simultaneously challenging them to think critically, UTSA hopes to ensure more students walk across the stage at graduation without compromising a Tier One level education.

Despite the growth in funding on the Tier One path, UTSA may encounter another predicament involving funding dispersal.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, “A bill approved last session required the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to begin incorporating student success measures into funding recommendations.”
HB 25, authored by Dan Branch (R-Dallas) and Ralph Sheffield (R-Temple), if passed, will call for at least 25 percent of base funding to be disbursed based on student success in public colleges and at 15 percent disbursed in other academic institutions.
“Twenty-five percent is higher than what lawmakers had been talking about before the session. Of course, the coordinating board had recommended ten percent as the amount,” stated Frederick.
This performance-based funding is a way to incentivize institutions to bring about greater student success, said Frederick. Under the bill, funding guidelines would move away from enrollment numbers and toward state academic comparisons.
He continued, “It’s a noble gesture, and it may have the desired effect, but it also may bring with it some subsidiary reactions. For example, one might question: Well, will universities be willing to take a chance on students that would ordinarily be labeled as high-risk?” High-risk students being generally classified as low in socioeconomic status or first generation college students.
Frederick urged that he does not think UTSA would respond to the bill in that way if it is passed, and stated, “I think we’re very earnest in our desire to improve student success rates here (at UTSA), and do it the right way by helping at-risk students achieve success.”
HB 25 is currently out of committee and awaiting vote in the House.

To improve academic standards, UTSA is also actively recruiting more scholars and researchers, which was largely kick-started by H-E-B’s recent $5 million donation to the cause.
The donation brought H-E-B’s total support to over $7 million and is the largest private challenge gift in UTSA history.
Secondly, the donation is also a matching one, bringing the total funding brought in from this particular exchange to $10 million. Frederick stated that the gift is important to build-up the endowed positions at UTSA.
An endowed position is one backed by a financial investment, and as that investment makes dividends, that position’s holder may use the money for educational or research purposes.
“Most of the time it’s used for research purposes, and in many cases it’s used to pay students who are working on research with that faculty member,” said Frederick. “I think the greater benefit is that it makes us competitive for hiring the best faculty… so we can ensure that we’re providing our students with the opportunity to interact with the best faculty.”
Included in the faculty recruitment is Dr. Gerry Sanders, a professor at Rice University, soon to be the new dean of the UTSA College of Business.
“I have been extremely impressed by the caliber of students that I’ve met and the professionalism of the faculty, administrators and staff at the UTSA College of Business,” Sanders told UTSA Today. “The university’s momentum toward top-tier status is clearly evident, and I am thrilled to be a part of this journey.”
“I think Dr. Sanders is going to bring good leadership to that college and help make sure that our business programs are keeping up with the needs of the San Antonio and greater community,” commented Frederick.
Sanders will officially complete his move to UTSA July 1.

Despite incoming faculty changes, an internal move propels UTSA’s research with the appointment of Donovan Fogt, associate professor in the health and kinesiology department, to the newly created position director of undergraduate research.
According to Fogt, “The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) was created as part of the restructuring of the Office of the Vice President for Research to promote the visibility and breadth of research opportunities for undergraduate students in all academic disciplines.”
“Our goal is there is to get more and more undergraduates involved in research activities and open for them the world of discovery and innovation,” stated Frederick. “These are the kinds of things that go beyond the classroom.”
According to Frederick, the newly created division has been in the works for around a year, and has finally been settled.
Frederick explained the focus on building up research in the university, as simply the part of Tier One status that is not as fundamentally strong at UTSA.
“The university is a place devoted to learning… there’s lots of ways you can learn something: you can learn it in a book, learn it because somebody told you or learn it because you went out and found the answer yourself,” said Frederick. “The first one, you don’t need a university for that if you know the right books to look at. (The second) universities can help you with if you learn correctly from a professor.”
“But the question, how do you learn when the answer isn’t known yet? That’s something special,” said Frederick. “And that’s what being a research university allows us to do. It allows us to have a community of active scholars that understand what it takes to go out and find answers that don’t exist yet and can help students learn how to do that as well.”
Addressing the concerns of overlooking fundamental education for research, Frederick commented that while tenure is more affirmed by research standards than it has been in the past, no amount of outstanding research will give a faculty member tenure if he or she isn’t a good teacher. Upon employment, UTSA faculty members currently have five years to gain tenure.
“It is really important to us that we have faculty here that not only are actively developing new ideas and discovering new things, but are also quite devoted to sharing that experience with students,” Frederick said.

Into the Future
In hopes of competing on the Tier One stage in Texas, UTSA aims to equalize student opportunity and growth with that found on UT-Austin and Texas A&M University campuses.
In comparison, UT-Austin’s return rate for second-year students is 93 percent, while UTSA’s rate is 73 percent, according to College Board.
Texas A&M University’s acceptance rate is 67 percent, only 6 percent lower than UTSA’s. However, UT-Austin’s rate is one of the lowest in Texas, at 47 percent, 20-23 percent lower than both Texas A&M University and UTSA.
Can UTSA compete? “In some areas we already do,” stated Frederick. “But across the board, it’ll take a few years. It’s like cooking a good stew; you have to give it time.”