The University of St. Thomas aims to nearly triple its current undergraduate enrollment by the year 2023, raising the number of undergrads to 5,000, according to a strategic five-year plan announced in August by UST President Richard Ludwick.
The plan, called “The Call Toward Tomorrow,” created five work groups that developed 18 goals, including increasing undergraduate enrollment. However, the University has not explained exactly how these goals will be achieved.
The current number of undergraduate students is 1,788, almost the highest number in UST history, according to Vice President for Enrollment Management Arthur Ortiz.
According to Ludwick, UST will be able to attract more students by implementing new programs. In an interview with the Independent, Ludwick pointed to the athletic department’s recent move up to National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III; UST’s new dance program in the fine arts and drama department, as well as the University’s decision to hire a new director for veterans affairs as examples of such changes.
He also said UST will be able to attract out-of-state students by emphasizing the school’s Catholicity.
As part of its enrollment goal, the CTT brochure states that UST will increase undergraduate enrollment by “creating a curriculum that is more attractive to prospective students.” However, Ludwick said this does not necessarily mean that UST will change its core curriculum.
“Just judging from the conversations so far with faculty, students, alumni and employers, clearly our liberal arts core curriculum is something that is strong,” he said.
Ortiz wrote in an email to the Independent that the CTT enrollment goal of 5,000 undergraduates is achievable. The plan “spans out until 2023,” he wrote, and “the enrollment goal in the plan does not specify the composition of that total.”
The total of 5,000 undergraduates “might be a mixture of teaching/enrollment modalities,” he wrote. “For example, the traditional enrollment might increase to 3,000 students with an additional 2,000 online students.”
Ortiz wrote that UST does have some online undergraduate courses. However, he also confirmed that the University currently “has no full online undergraduate programs.”
The CTT process began in October 2017 with an oversight committee composed of administration, faculty and students that identified five priorities for UST. This committee expanded into five work groups that created specific goals for their assigned areas.
Ludwick said the oversight committee continuously tried to gather feedback from the UST community throughout the process.
“The goal with it was to have… a conversation with as many people from the University as possible, both directly and indirectly with electronic feedback and in multiple ways, to see kind of where people were, where they wanted us to go and what that meant,” Ludwick said.
In September the University hired Faith Delehanty, a project and integration professional, to help UST reach the CTT goals. In a message posted on the CTT blog, Ludwick wrote that Delehanty’s job will be to hold administration, faculty and administrative staff accountable to the CTT process.
Now that the CTT has been released, Ludwick said it will be the responsibility of the UST community to implement the plan’s goals by embracing them and putting them into action.
“I don’t like to use the word goals, per se, because like in soccer, you either make the goal or you miss the goal,” he said. “These are targets where you have concentric rings, where you hit the center of the target or you come close, and it’s still a really good result.”
Ludwick said tuition provided by the anticipated enrollment numbers will help balance the University’s budget, which is currently running a deficit. The other CTT goals, he said, will be funded by donors.
UST senior business major David Garcia, who served on the oversight committee and the infrastructure work group, said he is “anxious” to see how the CTT goals will be implemented.
“These are lofty goals and there are a lot of them,” Garcia said.
The CTT work groups were designed to provide as broad a representation of opinions and “segments” as possible, according to history professor Thomas Crow. Crow, who was chair of the faculty senate from 2017-18, served as chair of CTT’s Ethos, Culture and Spirit work group.
“We are not really interested only in the opinions of those who were [in the work groups], but in what they have developed through talking to others,” Crow said.
According to the CTT brochure, one of the Ethos, Culture and Spirit work group’s goals is to have the University named one of the Houston Chronicle’s “Best Places to Work” by 2023. Crow acknowledged that faculty pay raises must be a component of that goal.
Crow said the results of the CTT goals will adequately address the faculty’s needs and concerns only if they are translated into action.
“If it’s just talk, it’s not worth the effort,” he said.
Ludwick said UST’s board of directors “has taken very seriously” Ludwick’s desire to provide the faculty with increased “compensation” despite UST’s budget deficit.
After the CTT was announced, the plan was criticized by some.
On a Facebook group named “Concerned UST Alumni” a few members complained the brochure did not sufficiently emphasize UST’s Catholicity or include the word Catholic in any of the goals. As of publication, the group had almost 1,000 members.
These critics do not have all the facts, or they are responding to an unfounded fear, Ludwick said. He said the CTT process included the consideration of the University’s Catholic identity and Basilian values.
“That kind of commentary is really a harsh misunderstanding of the University and of, frankly, the goodwill of people who worked on this plan,” Ludwick said. “I don’t think you’d find anyone in the room or in the discussion groups who in any way sought to move away from our Catholic identity. In fact, it was just the opposite.”
The CTT goals, planning process, presentations, memos, president’s messages and working draft interim report can all be found on the the CTT blog.
A previous version of this story stated that Ludwick said UST would be able to accommodate the higher enrollment numbers anticipated in the CTT by building up its physical and virtual campus infrastructure. His comments about infrastructure were actually in answer to our question about how UST will compete with peer institutions. We regret this error.