University of Central Florida President John C. Hitt announced today  that he will retire, concluding a remarkable 25-year tenure that has seen UCF become one of America’s greatest higher education success stories and one of the state’s most valuable and innovative partners.
His retirement will be effective June 30, 2018.
“I’ve never felt better about the future of UCF,” Hitt said. “I make this decision in good health and of my choosing. The time is right for this decision because I’ve never felt better about UCF.
“UCF is one of the biggest and best universities in the country. Through our size and constant pursuit of excellence, UCF changes the lives of our students. And our students change the world.
“Making this decision now provides the best opportunity for our momentum to continue.”
Starting March 1, 1992, Hitt transformed a commuter school into one of the largest universities in the country, shattering the traditional belief that such growth would lead to declines in quality. The Washington Post credited Hitt and UCF in 2015 with helping to lead a “national insurgency that aims to demolish the popular belief that exclusivity is a virtue in higher education.”
“In terms of impact, integrity and longevity, there’s never been a university president like John Hitt. There’s John — turn the page — and then everyone else,” said Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena.
“When I called Governor Rick Scott to share this news, he asked me to relay his deep appreciation for John’s long and distinguished service to the people of the state of Florida,” Marchena said. “He sends his well-wishes for a happy and healthy retirement.”
Marchena will convene a search committee to begin the process of selecting UCF’s fifth president. The committee will include members from the Board of Trustees and representatives from the faculty, staff, the student body, alumni, Board of Governors and the Central Florida community.
“I will lead the search knowing that this is a monumental decision that will shape UCF’s future for years to come,” Marchena said. “I promise a comprehensive, transparent and inclusive search.”
Marchena named Trustee David Walsh as the search committee chairman and Trustee Beverly Seay as vice chair. He also appointed Trustee William Yeargin to the committee.
Marchena plans to name the entire search committee not later than Nov. 15. He said he wants a new president approved by June 30.
Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Robert Garvy will lead a task force of university leaders to plan Dr. Hitt’s transition activities and to develop the welcome agenda for the new president.
The first in his family to attend college, Hitt knows firsthand the power higher education wields to transform lives, and he worked tirelessly to provide the same opportunity to students. He graduated from Austin College with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and earned a Master of Science degree and Ph.D. in physiological psychology from Tulane University.
UCF has achieved remarkable strides in academic quality and diversity during Hitt’s presidency. Graduation and retention rates have soared, and the average high school GPA for UCF students is now 4.05. The percentage of UCF students who are minorities has increased from 15 to 46. One of every four UCF students is the first in his or her family to attend college.
“Walt Disney and John Hitt have done more to transform Central Florida into a vibrant, dynamic place than any two people,” said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “At UCF, the great success of his presidency and magnitude of his accomplishments have few comparisons in the history of American universities.”
Under Hitt’s leadership, the university has opened a thriving honors college and medical school, as well as an on-campus football stadium, and received state approval for a new campus in downtown Orlando and a university hospital. UCF also joined area state colleges in establishing the DirectConnect to UCF partnership that has earned national acclaim for making a college education more accessible and affordable.
Washington Monthly has named Hitt as one of the most innovative presidents in the country. The Orlando Sentinel and Orlando magazine regularly list Hitt as one of the most influential leaders in Central Florida, and in 2016 The Washington Post noted that he “is often referred to as Orlando’s most powerful man.”
In 2015, Politico magazine described DirectConnect to UCF as a “seamless pipeline of social mobility” and called the partnership “as groundbreaking as the dreams that once carved out a magical kingdom here amid cow pastures.”
“John Hitt has left an amazing and lasting mark,” said Tico Perez, a 1983 UCF graduate and former member of the Florida Board of Governors and UCF Board of Trustees. “His efforts to expand the university and our community are extraordinary; his standards of integrity and partnership exemplary. He is truly a community hero.”
Hitt will remain part of the UCF family, serving as President Emeritus and working to help advance important philanthropic, community and partnership goals on behalf of the university.
For example, discussions have already started about Hitt’s role in helping UCF successfully complete the $500 million Ignite fundraising campaign. And the Board of Trustees will continue to seek his advice and counsel about the implementation of the Collective Impact strategic plan, ensuring the university’s current path continues unabated.
Hitt and his wife of 55 years, Martha, thanked their many colleagues and friends.
“Martha and I have been honored to work alongside many exceptional people. Being at UCF has been one of the greatest joys of our lives,” Hitt said. “When we first visited campus, we had a powerful feeling that UCF was a special place. We could never have imagined then how special it would become.
“Thank you to everyone who has made our remarkable university what it is today. Martha and I are forever grateful for your support.”
Hitt’s notable local, state and national recognitions include:
- Modeling and Simulation Hall of Fame, National Center for Simulation, 2014
- Global Vision and Education Award, Nile Foundation, 2013
- Mid-Florida Business Hall of Fame, Junior Achievement, 2013
- Consistently listed among the Orlando Sentinel’s 25 Most Powerful People in Central Florida and Orlando magazine’s 50 Most Powerful People
- Lifetime achievement award, Seminole County, 2007
- Legacy Award, inaugural honoree, Orlando Business Journal, 2006
- Central Floridian of the Year, Orlando Sentinel, 2005
- Founding member, Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities
- Founding member, national University Innovation Alliance
- Founder, Florida High-Tech Corridor Council
- Member, board of directors and board of governors, NCAA Division I
- Member, board of directors, National Merit Scholarship Corporation
- Member, Florida Council of 100
- Member, board of directors, American Athletic Conference
- Co-chair, 2014 Greater Orlando Heart Walk, American Heart Association
- Member, board of directors, Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission
- Member, board of directors, Central Florida Partnership
- Member, board of directors, United Arts of Central Florida