President Hitt: 'A Very Special Year is Ahead of Us'

President Hitt: ‘A Very Special Year is Ahead of Us’

UCF President John C. Hitt delivered his State of the University address Tuesday at the Student Union. Faculty Senate Chair Ida Cook and Student Government Association President Cortez Whatley also spoke to students and staff and faculty members who packed the Pegasus Ballroom. The prepared remarks for all three speeches are below. To watch a video of the State of the University address, visit the SGA Extra website.

President John C. Hitt:

Good afternoon, and welcome to this special assembly of our UCF family. With us today are representatives of our Student Government Association, Faculty Senate, and Board of Trustees; members of our faculty and staff; students; and friends of the university. Thank you all for coming. And a very special greeting to our Jewish friends who will be observing Yom Kippur this evening.

Today, we take stock as UCF looks to its 50th birthday on June 10. Where are we in this landmark year, and where should we be heading?

In recent weeks, you may have read and heard in our local media a variety of opinions about a subject that relates directly to these questions: the size and growth of UCF.

Some think UCF is too big and should downsize its enrollment. Others think UCF has achieved its ideal size and should stop growing. Still others hope UCF will continue to grow.

One fact that is not debated: UCF is big, the second-biggest university in the nation and the largest in Florida.

However, while we have grown, our goal has never been to be big.

Rather, we have grown in order to offer access to higher education and opportunity to highly qualified and motivated individuals. We champion access to UCF because of a simple truth: Higher education transforms lives.

A college degree has been, and continues to be, the single most important factor for a successful career – and a better future.

From 2007 to 2012, during very tough employment times, people with baccalaureate degrees as a group experienced no net loss of jobs. In fact, jobs for people with degrees climbed by 2.2 million, or 5 percent. The group that did not go to college experienced a 10 percent decline in employment, which translates into 5.8 million people without a job.

So, if you are ever asked why UCF continues to grow, you know the answer: to offer a high-quality education to as many deserving, eligible students as we can.

We are in the life-transformation business, and we are successful at it!

Most of our 210,000 degree holders live and work in the Orlando region. And, thus, it is no coincidence that a recent article in Forbes magazine ranked Orlando eighth among U.S. cities that are getting smarter the fastest.

From 2000 to 2010, Orlando’s college-educated population increased by 46.6 percent. And that is great news for our city-state. Why? Because the companies that pay the highest salaries and that invest most in the local economy seek areas with high numbers of college graduates among the working-age population. And UCF is proud to provide that desirable, highly skilled workforce.

A number of our graduates play major roles in our community, such as Dr. Barbara Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins is an outstanding educator and administrator who holds three degrees from UCF, and she recently started a new job. Please join me in welcoming the superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, Dr. Barbara Jenkins.

Congratulations, Barbara. We look forward to working with you to prepare more public school students for higher education and a rich and meaningful life.

Superintendent Jenkins seized the opportunity that UCF offers. Increasing numbers of students seek a similar opportunity, which leads back to the original question.

For a university, is big better? Is small better?

Both questions miss the mark. The proper question regards the quality of the education that a university delivers. You can provide a mediocre education to 1,000 students, just as you can to 50,000 students. And you can provide an excellent education to 60,000 students – as UCF does!

Proof of the high quality of education that UCF delivers is found throughout our area and around our nation. Among the highlights of my past year have been visits with enthusiastic alumni groups in New York, Charlotte, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Many of those alumni are in their late 20s or early 30s, and they credit UCF for helping them on their way to successful careers.

In New York, I met a young man who had just started a new job in finance. Hired along with him were two recent graduates from Harvard. And he told me, “You know, I am better prepared for my new job than they are.”

As a university president, stories like that one tend to make my day!

If someone asks me why UCF continues to grow, I ask them, “Why not?” On almost every national measure for student success, UCF has improved over the last 10 years — those years during which we experienced our greatest growth. You will notice the qualifier “almost” in that previous statement, and I will address that “almost” in just a moment.

In the decade from 2001-02 to 2011-12:

  • The average SAT score for the freshman class increased 98 points from 1152 to 1250.
  • The number of National Merit Scholars enrolled at UCF more than tripled from 67 to 231.
  • The high school grade point average of the freshman class increased from 3.66 to 3.87.
  • Our first-year retention rate increased by 8 percentage points from 79 to 87 percent.
  • Our six-year graduation rate increased by 13 percentage points from 50 to 63 percent.
  • Our students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields more than doubled from 5,543 students to 11,166 students.
  • Our numbers of degrees awarded increased by 84 percent from 7,824 to 14,369.

The one nationally recognized quality-of-education measure at which UCF does not excel is our student-to-faculty ratio. At 31 students for each faculty member, our ratio is the highest in the state. We are not happy — or content — with that number.

However, our showing on this measure is largely the result of the budget cuts for higher education. In the past five years, UCF has lost 49 percent of its state support. That loss has limited our ability to hire the number of faculty members that we had planned to hire, or that we want to hire.

Despite the budget cuts, two-thirds of UCF classes have fewer than 40 students. In fact, we have more classes with 10 or fewer students than we do classes with 100 or more students.

Our faculty-to-student ratio has challenged us to be creative in order to assure continued student success.

  • Our nationally recognized online education program boasts a faculty-training course that is emulated across the country. The program also has a support system of professionals who know how to exploit online learning strengths to re-create face-to-face courses.
  • We have one of the best-funded teacher-training centers in the nation, where our faculty members learn new ways to achieve student learning in large classes and small.
  • Last year, more than 20,000 students practiced in the community what they learned in the classroom through internships, academic service-learning, and co-operative education experiences. In this way, we supplement the classroom teaching of our faculty members with the professional expertise and one-on-one guidance of thousands of Central Floridians.
  • We use our students’ differential tuition dollars to lower the size of freshman composition classes and to hire peer-tutors for one-on-one work in the writing center and the algebra lab.
  • We partner with state colleges across our region, sharing the cost of joint-use facilities on their campuses. This allows a greater efficiency of operations for UCF, and it provides our students with greater convenience for attending classes. It’s a win-win for all of us.

When people ask, “When are you going to stop growing?” I have two standard responses. First, we will stop growing when our size becomes unmanageable. Second, we will stop growing when the demand for access to higher education in our region is met.

Neither has happened!

However, the question about when we stop growing leads us to the elephant in the room: our funding.

In the past five years, state funding cuts for UCF have totaled $144 million. That amount includes our $52.6 million share of the $300 million reduction for the State University System this year. Next year, state lawmakers have vowed to restore our funding, along with the remainder of the $300 million.

If the $300 million is not restored, the impact on students will be substantial, with fewer course offerings, larger classes, and graduation delays.

The glaringly obvious fact is that we need more faculty members and more classrooms. This is our pathway to smaller class sizes and to a lower student-to-faculty ratio.

All of the university presidents are united in urging our state lawmakers to keep their promise, and I ask each of you to help us by contacting your state lawmakers. Encourage them to return those dollars so that UCF can provide the high caliber of education that our students and our community deserve and need.

But be careful how you approach the legislators! Under state regulations, please contact them on your own time and without using state resources.

Now, some state leaders would suggest that the state universities should not seek new revenues; instead, we need only to tighten our belts.

As I recently told the Florida Board of Governors, we have been tightening our belts – for the last five years we’ve been tightening our belts! We’ve cinched that belt to a size 22 waist!

Administrative costs at UCF are 39 percent lower than the State University System average. UCF instruction costs are 25 percent lower than the system average at both the lower- and upper-division level.

And we work smarter. For example, the recent addition of a natural gas-powered generator will save at least $2 million a year in energy costs while reducing emissions.

To our outstanding faculty and staff members: You are the best. It is because of your dedication and sacrifices that we have been able to minimize the impact of our cuts on our students and the city-state that we serve. Thank you all; you have my deepest appreciation.

We are being frugal. However, if the state continues to reduce funding for UCF, we will have to limit access for the first time next year. Our resources can stretch only so far.

Oliver Cromwell, the 17th Century English military and political leader, said, “He who stops being better, stops being good.” At UCF, we will keep striving to be the best metropolitan research university in the nation. Above all, providing a high-quality education must come first. If resource reductions should force us to adjust our growth for the sake of quality, we will do so.

Still, we must always fight for access and opportunity. And we will do all we can to keep our high-quality education affordable and to help students succeed once they arrive at UCF.

  • That’s why we have used 30 percent of all differential tuition dollars to support need-based scholarships.
  • That’s why we are proud that 49 percent of our students graduate without debt.
  • And that’s why we have designed one of the least expensive ways to get a baccalaureate degree in the United States – what we call DirectConnect to UCF.

DirectConnect is our unique Central Florida initiative to provide access to a baccalaureate degree for a wide range of students at an affordable cost. Students who earn an associate degree from Brevard Community College, Lake Sumter Community College, Seminole State College, and Valencia College are guaranteed access to a baccalaureate degree at UCF.

Our partner schools and UCF have some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation. And leaders at our partner schools say that growing numbers of their students are coming from outside Central Florida to be in the UCF pipeline. The word is spreading: It’s great to be a Knight!

UCF stands for opportunity, and I am proud that UCF provided opportunities to a record 10,403 transfer students last year.

Many of our transfer students excel at UCF, and some are among our finest examples of student success, such as Seminole State transfer Tatiana Viecco.

Tatiana’s family moved from Colombia to America when she was 15. She had to learn to speak English. But, Tatiana was strong in math and science, and she was determined to succeed. At Seminole State College, she thrived and earned a Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, awarded to only the most outstanding community college students in the nation.

At UCF, Tatiana soon became a top student in industrial engineering. She joined the Burnett Honors College, was chosen to be a McNair Scholar, and became campus president of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. Along the way, Tatiana also found time to dance as part of the activities of the Colombian Student Association.

Now a senior, her passions include mentoring and encouraging women and minorities to enter STEM fields. This spring, Tatiana earned the highest academic honor that a student can receive at UCF, membership in the Order of Pegasus. Tatiana, will you please stand.

Congratulations, Tatiana!

You and other transfer students from our consortium schools are what UCF is all about. To borrow a quotation from Arizona State’s president, Michael Crow, we want to be a university known for whom we include, not for whom we exclude.

And we are succeeding in having a student body that reflects our community and our world.

  • Our preliminary enrollment figures indicate that the number of minority students has reached an all-time high of 39.3 percent. That number is up from 27.4 percent a decade ago.
  • This fall, we are home to students from 123 countries.
  • And here’s another telling statistic: Approximately 26 percent of our student body are among the first in their families to attend college. This is great for them, but also for their children. Data show that children of college graduates are 12 times more likely to go to college than children of parents who have not attended college.

As a first generation college student myself, I know how much a college education means. Student success doesn’t end at graduation. It also means getting a job. I could go on and on about how UCF works to help our graduates find good jobs. But let me tell you about UCF graduate Dan Rini.

Dan hails from Canada and came to UCF on an athletic scholarship for waterskiing. I didn’t make that up!

In 2000, after earning his doctorate degree from UCF in mechanical engineering, Dan used UCF’s award-winning  technology incubator program to launch his own company, RINI Technologies. It creates innovative high-tech cooling solutions for lasers, electronics, and people.

For instance, Dan produces technology for the Army that helps cool a soldier’s body in very hot climates. Other clients have included the Navy, Homeland Security, and NASA. Dan holds 11 patents, and his former one-person operation now employs 20 people, including several UCF graduates.

His company also pays UCF students and faculty members for their assistance with Dan’s leading-edge research projects. Dan, would you please stand. Congratulations, Dan, and keep up the great work!

Student success stories at UCF can command international attention.

News outlets around the globe have spotlighted the efforts of recent Ph.D. graduate Kevin Stevenson and UCF with the discovery of planet candidate UCF-1.01. The planet is possibly the nearest one to our solar system that is smaller than Earth, and such a finding is highly prized among astronomers and planetary scientists.

Kevin combined his own novel methods of data analysis with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to lead in making this exciting discovery. Here is more about it from Kevin, who is now a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago.

Kevin touched on another key part of this story, and that is the exposure of students at UCF to talented and inspiring faculty members. Dr. Harrington is on a sabbatical leave this fall in Germany and cannot be with us. But he secured access to the NASA telescope that helped enable Kevin’s extraordinary work at UCF. And Kevin says there is another heavenly finding in the offing: UCF Planet Candidate 1.02. Stay tuned, folks!

It’s probably safe to say that not even the sky is the limit for Kevin’s future!

Now, on to the planet Mars and its UCF connection. People around the world are enjoying the vivid pictures of Mars taken by the rover, Curiosity. The colors in those exciting pictures are the direct result of innovations developed at UCF by Dr. Daniel Britt.

His technology helps to ensure proper color and exposure balance for the rover’s MastCam camera. This lets scientists get a better view of the rocks on Mars. Dr. Britt’s calibration targets have been on six Mars landings. Dr. Britt is out of town, but we salute him for his wonderful work that is bringing much acclaim to UCF while advancing student success.

From the beginning of this university, our official motto has been “reach for the stars.” In fact, UCF owns the U.S. trademark for that phrase, originated by our founding president, Dr. Charlie Millican. But, we aim for the planets, too. And sometimes, the impressive work of our students and faculty members at UCF is just out of this world!

Back here on campus, our student-athletes are excelling in the classroom as well as on the field and on the court.

  • UCF led Conference USA’s public institutions with 221 student-athletes named to the 2011-12 Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll, which requires a 3.0 GPA or higher.
  • This spring, our student-athletes collectively produced a GPA of 3.0 or better for the ninth-straight semester, with 32 of them achieving a perfect 4.0.
  • And the UCF football team is tied for third in the nation in the number of team members who have already earned bachelor’s degrees.

A great example of this student success is outstanding scholar-athlete, Jordan Rae.

In May, Jordan graduated with his degree in finance. He is a three-year starter on the football team and is a candidate for the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded each year to the best center in the nation.

In starting on his master’s in business this summer, Jordan earned a perfect 4.0 in his classes, and he made the honor roll in six of his eight semesters. He is also community minded. Even during high school, he enjoyed volunteering to read to elementary school children and to visit youngsters in hospitals with life-threatening illnesses.

Jordan, will you please stand. Thank you for being such a wonderful role model for all UCF students.

Speaking of sports, I am excited that we are creating a new culture of excellence for UCF Athletics. And, as our teams look to play in the BIG EAST Conference next year, the future of UCF sports is bright!

The rise of UCF as one of the great success stories in higher education comes, in large part, from the steady pursuit of the five goals that have guided UCF since I arrived in 1992.

  • To offer the best undergraduate education available in Florida.
  • To achieve international prominence in key programs of graduate study and research.
  • To provide international focus to our curricula and research programs.
  • To become more inclusive and diverse.
  • And to be America’s leading partnership university.

As partners for nearly the past 50 years, this university and its region have prospered. UCF has contributed much to Central Florida, and Central Floridians have been key to the success of this university. This month, a dear friend of UCF, Al Burnett, passed away.

Beginning in 1979, the contributions  of Al, and his lovely wife, Nancy, resulted in $21.8 million for UCF students and programs. Various facilities that their generosity enabled bear their name: the Burnett Honors College; the Burnett House, which is the president’s home at UCF; and our Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, which is the foundation for the UCF College of Medicine at Lake Nona.

In life, some people want to be something, others want to do something. Al and Nancy Burnett were doers who believed in the power of education to enrich lives. And, for generations to come, their gifts will benefit UCF and the city-state it serves.

In the spirit of the Burnetts, many other friends of UCF will support student success and access to higher education by contributing to our comprehensive fundraising campaign that is underway. The focus of our campaign is to build an endowment for student scholarships and faculty member support, and we hope that you will participate.

Today, the state of our university is stronger than ever. And a very special year is ahead of us.

  • We are on our way to more school records for student access, for quality, and for the number of degrees awarded.
  • We will finalize and implement a plan to boost our graduation rate to 70 percent within five years.
  • We will move forward with initial efforts for a three-phase, $64 million transformation of our library.
  • We will graduate our first class of future physicians from our UCF College of Medicine.
  • And we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of an institution that, in a remarkably short time, has become a vital force for Central Florida and a metropolitan research university of global impact.

UCF stands for opportunity. And then some.

Let us always remember that this is a place where people do what others think they cannot do.

This is a university that does things that others think cannot be done.

And I can hardly wait to see what our Knights Nation will do to change the world in the coming year.

Thank you for all that you do for UCF, may God bless us all, and may God bless UCF. GO KNIGHTS!

Now, I am delighted to introduce the chair of the Faculty Senate and a member of the UCF Board of Trustees, Dr. Ida Cook.

Faculty Senate Chair Ida Cook:

Thank you, President Hitt.

On behalf of the UCF Faculty, I would like to again congratulate you for the continuing success that UCF has experienced here in Central Florida, in the state, and in the nation.

As President Hitt mentioned, UCF’s student/faculty ratio of 31students per one faculty member is well above the state university system’s average. That difference is even greater when compared to the other three state universities that share with us the designation of Very High Research qualification.

Our average ratio of 31 to their average of 18 makes our inclusion in that category even more impressive. In light of the challenges, it must be said that the successes of the UCF faculty stand out as being extraordinary!

From a faculty member’s perspective, I also want to say that I am both proud and humbled when I consider all the many things that my UCF colleagues such as Professors Harrington and Britt do to help their students learn while contributing to their professions and the university’s accomplishments.

Let me take a moment to identify a few of them. As part of our efforts, UCF faculty have taken the opportunity to partner with the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning to find and develop new methods and innovative ways to provide quality teaching to advance student learning.

UCF faculty regularly mentor students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels as is evidenced by the research projects presented at the annual UCF student research symposia that showcases their research projects. Our faculty commit their time to assist and guide students in gaining “hands-on” experience with genuine research.

The topics may include such things as “creating a greener healthcare industry, wastewater management, juvenile justice, forensic analysis of mummified remains, documentary filmmaking, communication skills of autistic children, preventing bullying or rebuilding oyster beds.

While conducting their research, these students develop skills and gain insights that give them an advantage in their studies, and at the same time, they have the opportunity to help advance the field of knowledge in their disciplines.

In addition to student research opportunities, UCF faculty mentor students in a variety of settings, including supervising internships and coordinating volunteer projects in the community. The Coalition for the Homeless, Habitat for Humanity, and Junior Achievement are just a few of the organizations that the faculty and students work with to promote academic service learning in the community.

Whether it is research or academic service learning projects, faculty help students obtain the experience that allows them to apply the knowledge of their disciplines in the real world and their future careers.

Because UCF faculty and administrators support “shared governance,” UCF faculty are regularly involved in discussing, developing and supporting improvements in campus-wide policies. For example, when it became clear that our online learning management system needed to be upgraded to enhance student learning, faculty from across the university volunteered to work with the offices of Institutional Technology and Distributed Learning to test the replacement systems being proposed and assisted in making the final choice.

Shared governance can also be seen in the development of the new, streamlined academic integrity process and the smoke-free campus initiative for a healthier environment.

We continue to participate in the review and decisions of Senate and university committees and councils dealing with undergraduate and graduate curricular and policy matters, the university strategic plan, the university master plan, parking and transportation, and faculty and staff benefits, just to mention a few.

I am sure that everyone joins me in acknowledging and thanking ALL the UCF faculty for their continued dedication to enhancing student learning, their active research efforts, and for their mentoring and encouragement of students while still maintaining our commitment to providing the best college education in the state of Florida!

Thank you, and GO KNIGHTS!

Now, please welcome the president of our UCF student body, the student representative on the UCF Board of Trustees, and also the student representative on the Florida Board of Governors, Cortez Whatley.

Student Government Association President Cortez Whatley:

President Hitt, members of the Faculty Senate, Student Government Association, distinguished guests, and my fellow Knights, I am honored to stand among such an incredible group of people. There is no greater joy that I have than calling myself a UCF Knight.

The State of the University Address is a great occasion. It is our chance to look to the future and see what kind of progress our university is making. This year has ushered in a whirlwind of changes for our unique student body. We have seen significant reductions of funding provided by the state, an issue students have justly voiced their concerns over. The difficult decision to increase tuition was made, and not without every possible consideration in mind.

We have had to readjust how our university operates in order to compensate for our continuous loss of funding. Administrative and college budgets alike have been trimmed, valued faculty members have been let go, and a number of courses and programs have been lost.

These economic times are tough. But it is important to realize that one of our greatest strengths is our unity. It is our ability to come together and progress even in the face of adversity. It is our ability to continuously be on the cutting edge of innovation and creativity even in the midst of challenges. It is our unwillingness to yield when difficulties arise, and it is our resilient dedication to achieving excellence that has kept us strong and will continue to carry us forward.

We proudly remain the second-largest university in the nation, with a constantly growing student body focused on success and opportunity. We have not forfeited quality for the sake of numbers; quite the contrary, we continue to increase the value in our degrees and bolster the level of our education. This is because of the diligence of our administration, faculty, and staff, and no doubt attributed to the hard-working and driven student population. We are elite without being elitist.

Student Body Vice President Rachel Brill and I are privileged and honored to serve this great student body. This is not a responsibility we take lightly, and we promised to better the UCF culture we have all come to know and love. With the goals on our platform, we made the pledge that we would take your vision for academics, your vision for community, and your vision for tomorrow and make it our mission to fulfill them. I am so proud to say that we have made significant strides toward those goals.

Coming this spring semester, you will see the new expansion of the Recreation & Wellness Center open in Knight’s Plaza. This expansion not only allows more students to commit to a healthier lifestyle, but opens new avenues for better mental and physical well-being.

A Holiday Shuttle Service System, dubbed “Knightflight”, is well underway, and will allow easy transport for students to and from and the airport.

To honor our promise of strengthening academics, we are working to bring you reduced text books by partnering with Electronic Textbook distribution companies. In addition, the first ever calculator rental program is in its final stages. Students will now be able to rent out a specialized calculator for an allotted amount of time to assist them in their courses. Wireless printing is also now available to all students both on and off-campus, virtually eliminating both sign-in and waiting times.

This fall you will be able to enjoy an all new All Knight Study II, which will be located in Ferrell Commons. This facility will be another 24-hour study space that will provide more independent and group study areas as well as printing for students. The facility will also be the new home to our LGBTQ services community.

In our effort to revolutionize the way we reach out to the student body, we are working to provide a forum for the student voice to be heard. Through the renovation of the SGA Extra and the implementation of a real-time discussion board on our website, students will be able to start conversation and really help to shape this campus.

Our number one mission within Student Government is to advocate for the student body, and this will help us prioritize our mission.

For our regional students, we made the promise that you will no longer feel as if you are not a part of this UCF family. We are taking every effort to expand the reach of SGA to our regional campuses through our services, programming, and events.

Our university is constantly evolving. It is inspiring to know that we as students are the first and foremost priority of our administration when it comes to decision-making. It is inspiring to know that Student Government serves to be the one voice of the student body, focused on ensuring that our time here is an unforgettable experience.

The journey we embark on together as UCF Knights is one I am proud to say never ends. Let us continue to strive for success; let us continue to make your vision our mission.

At this time we would like to welcome our guests to the refreshments and reception in the back area. Also, there are  special T-Shirts made for this event to be given out to our students. Thank you all for coming and….

GO KNIGHTS!