PWIs Are Booming in Metro Houston, While Texas Southern is Still Looking for a President

Rice University has announced plans to grow its total enrollment by more than 4,800 additional undergraduates and to more than double its current graduate student enrollment over the next four years. The expansion, school officials say, tracks with growth metrics met over the last four years.

From Houston Culture Map:

This expansion isn’t unprecedented: The school notes a roughly 35-percent increase in undergraduate enrollment between fall 2005 and 2013, as well as enlargement in graduate programs.

Not surprisingly, demand for a Rice education is high, as the school reports that the number of students applying to has grown around 75 percent over the last four years. The growth was aided by the Rice Investment, a financial aid program launched in 2018 that significantly expanded support for domestic students from families with incomes up to $200,000.

For example, in 2004, Rice received about 11 applications for every entering student; by 2020, the ratio had grown to roughly 28 applicants for every student opening. Almost 30,000 students applied for fall 2021, marking an increase of 26 percent from the previous year.

This news comes on the heels of the University of Houston advancing to its first Final Four appearance in the NCAA men’s national basketball tournament in 37 years. The marketing typically associated with long runs through March Madness: between a 20 and 30% spike in applications.

From a 2017 Atlantic analysis:

According to a recent analysis of federal Department of Education data by Bloomberg, schools that beat performance expectations during March Madness receive a bump not only in public awareness, but also in the number of applications they receive. For example, as Bloomberg points out, after then-15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast’s wild run through Georgetown and San Diego State to advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the 2013 tournament, applications to the Fort Myers, Florida, campus spiked 27.5 percent. A similar trend was observed at Lehigh University after it bounced perennial tournament contender and then-second-seeded Duke from the first round of the 2012 tournament. And it’s not just one shocking upset that results in more applications: If a team makes it further into March than expected—such as Wichita State’s surprising Final Four berth in 2013—it can also experience increased interest. Wichita State, for its part, received almost 30 percent more applications following its success on the court in 2013, Bloomberg reports.

Former Texas Southern University President John Rudley warned that unequal resources and their associated problems and politics would result in harm to the city’s flagship Black institution. Those are things that Texas Southern as an institution can do little to impact, but there are some things that the institution can do.

One of them is to hire a president. Immediately.

Former Texas Southern President Austin Lane parted ways with the university at the dawn of a global pandemic, and months later secured another presidency. TSU has not had quite the golden parachute. More than a year after the split, the university remains under interim leadership and just earlier this month, formally posted the position description to its website.

A month after Lane’s departure, Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough publicly warned that the TSU board was too volatile for any serious candidate to consider working there. There’s no telling if his interference helped to diminish the talent pool or compromised the board’s willingness to aggressively search for a new chief executive, but no matter what the cause, the year-long leadership pause has put the school in reverse in its competition with neighboring schools and mutual growth with Houston at large.

Manufacturing and tech, along with healthcare and energy are exploding industries in the greater metropolitan area. A recent editorial in Bloomberg outlined the need for the state to respond to these spikes and the accompanying migration to Texas’ metropolitan areas with an upgrade of its university systems.

Universities are key for regional economic development. The biggest way they boost college towns is by conducting research that pulls skilled workers in from elsewhere, which in turn draws in corporate investment. Meanwhile, even if undergraduates move away after graduation, many will stay in the same state, adding to the pool of human capital that attracts businesses to an area. Upgrading both its flagship schools and its second-tier schools might cost a lot of money, but it would allow Texas to attract more of the technology industry investment it needs.

TSU would be well-suited by aggressively pursuing a sitting president with experience in academic development, workforce training pipelines, and comfort in legislative lobbying in a conservative statehouse.

While it is one of the largest historically Black institutions in the nation, the movement of its regional counterparts is showing that Texas Southern is soon to be a shark being circled by whales in Houston’s growing ocean of potential. If the TSU Board of Regents can get a president to start his or her post by June 1, there may be a chance for the school to make waves in shallow water instead of falling enrollment, dwindling legislative support, and lost industrial partnerships making up the menu for the hungry schools beyond its gates.