It has been an historic year for Texas A&M University, with 2008 starting with Dr. Elsa A. Murano becoming the first woman and first Hispanic-American to serve as president of the state's first public institution of higher learning. It concluded with President George W. Bush speaking at the inaugural commencement convocation in one of his final major public addresses.
In opening Texas A&M's commencement convocation earlier this month, Murano reflected on the university's successes and expressed confidence going forward. "We look forward to the new year of 2009 with pride in the accomplishments of our past and confidence in our shared future as Aggies, as Texans and as Americans. We are fortunate to be associated with Texas A&M during one of the university's most exciting periods of growth and development," Murano said.
"By nearly every benchmark, we are moving to the next level of excellence," she added. "But we must always remember that our success comes down to people. Our most important assets-the factors that are critically important in judging a university's prestige-are the commitment to excellence demonstrated by our faculty and staff, the success of our graduates once they leave the classroom and enter the real world and the people who choose to be associated with our university."
The year also was marked by Texas A&M opening its arms and doors during the fall semester to approximately 1,500 students from its branch campus in Galveston in response to the devastation from Hurricane Ike. The scope of operation-including the addition of new classes and arranging for housing and other accommodations in just a matter of days-is thought to be unprecedented in the history of higher education.
The addition of the Texas A&M at Galveston (TAMUG) students-the Sea Aggies-presented logistical, academic and administrative challenges on the College Station campus, which already had a record enrollment. A special camaraderie between the student bodies and a high degree of cooperation by the institutions' respective faculties, staffs and administrations paved the way for what many observers believe was a model operation.
Texas A&M's fall enrollment, not counting the TAMUG students-was 48,039, a level that ranked the university among the six largest in the nation. That included a record 9,106 graduate students and record levels of enrollment for African-American and Hispanic students, 1,560 and 5,867 respectively. The entering freshman class-the Class of 2012-missed by only three students being an overall record number, but it did include record enrollments. TAMUG had an official enrollment of 1,612-only nine students short of setting a record even with the Ike-caused turmoil.
As part of an outreach effort to encourage more high school students to plan to attend college-and particularly minority students-Texas A&M put on the road a gleaming new bus brimming with capabilities for providing admissions and financial aid information, as well as a glimpse of college life overall. It's called the "Do You Wonder" bus-and takes its name from a new outreach campaign prominently displayed on the university's main Web site. The "Do You Wonder" on-line campaign focuses on students firsthand telling about their Aggieland experiences by using social media tools.
In conjunction with her formal investiture as president of the university,
Dr, Murano announced a new tuition scholarship program for incoming freshmen whose families earn less than $60,000 per year. The program, called "Aggie Assurance," is one of the first in the nation targeting students from middle-income families. Texas A&M now provides approximately $450 million annually in all aspects of student financial aid, including part-time employment for approximately 14,000 Aggies.
For the second consecutive year, the university surpassed the 10,000
milestone in number of degrees conferred. For the 2007-08 academic year, the total was a record 10,638.
In addition to starting the new year with a trail-blazing president, Texas
A&M celebrated its status as being a top-10 school for enrollment of new National Merit Scholars. It enrolled 172 of these high-achieving students last year, according to official tabulations by the National Merit
Scholarship Corp. (The organization has not yet released its 2008 report.) Underscoring its ability to attract high-achieving students on a broad basis, the average SAT score for freshmen admitted to the university last fall was a record 1210, which is 189 points higher than the national average.
Texas A&M completed its unprecedented "faculty reinvestment program," a five-year endeavor in which it added 447 new faculty to enhance the learning experience for its students by, among other factors, improving the teacher-student ratio and research opportunities. A Nobel Prize winner and numerous highly regarded young faculty members were among the new hires.
The investment in research continued to expand, with the university and its affiliated Texas A&M System agencies now investing more than $540 million annually in approximately 3,500 projects, many of which have significant economic potential with others contributing to the basic storehouse of knowledge.
Construction continued to be a way of life on campus, with projects totaling approximately $800 million in various phases of completion or advanced planning. They include a $95 million interdisciplinary life sciences building, a facility to house the Texas Institute for Preclinical Studies and two new physics buildings. The physics buildings will bear the name of George P. Mitchell of Houston, a 1940 Texas A&M graduate and major donor, with his latest gift making possible construction of the two new buildings. Earlier this month, ground was broken for a $100 million engineering facility to facilitate work in emerging technologies, and planning has begun for the renovation and expansion of Texas A&M's storied Memorial Student Center.
Texas A&M bucked a national trend by holding its fall semester tuition to
the lowest increase in a decade-to less than 5 percent. Taking oncerted steps to hold down costs while continuing to offer high-quality education contributed to Texas A&M continuing to fare well in "best value" articles and rankings by several prestigious national publications. Earlier this month, Texas A&M was rated by "Smart Money " magazine as one of the top two universities in the nation for "payback ratio"-the earnings levels of an institution's graduates compared to what they paid in tuition, fees and related costs for their undergraduate educations. Texas A&M President Elsa Murano is cited in the article, noting "how stringently it (Texas A&M) economizes on administrative costs." After seeing the published article, Dr. Murano said: "We are obviously pleased-but certainly not surprised-to have Texas A&M acknowledged as a national leader in the financial return on
investment in a college education. "We take special pride in providing our students a high-quality education at the most affordable cost within our means, in keeping with our high standards as one of the nation's top research universities. We don't necessarily strive to be the least expensive; our goal is to provide the best overall value for a university that offers a world-class educational experience."
While the "Smart Money" article focuses on the earning power of recipients of undergraduate degree, "The Wall Street Journal" earlier this month ranked the Executive MBA Program in Texas A&M's Mays Business School as tops in the nation for its return on investment in costs to obtain the degree. The publication surveyed executive MBA graduates in the summer of 2008 and used factors such as raises received after graduation, company-sponsorship figures, tuition and out-of-pocket costs to determine the ranking. Mays' program, showing a return on investment of 243 percent, was at the top of the list, which included 27 U.S. schools and nine international programs.
Earlier this year, Texas A&M was listed among the top 10 public institutions in a Forbes magazine survey that ranked earnings of alumni from around the country with 10 to 20 years of experience. Texas A&M was the only Texas institution ranked among the top 10 public schools in the list that was dominated by University of California schools.
Texas A&M also ranked high in the most recent "best value" surveys by "U.S. News & World Report" and " Kiplinger's" magazines and "The Princeton Review."
Additionally, Texas A&M was the top-ranked institution in "The Washington Monthly's" most recent (2007) "College Guide," which its editors said focuses on "tangible contributions to the public interest." Editors of the Washington, D.C-based magazine said they rate individual schools on such factors as the degree to which they encourage students to serve in ROTC programs, the Peace Corps and other service programs, along with their emphasis on research that drives economic growth.
The reign of one Reveille ended in 2008 and another began. Reveille VII, the university's mascot for the previous seven years, retired in May, and Rev VIII started winning Aggie hearts over the summer and made her formal debut Aug. 31 In addition to serving as mascot for the entire student body, Reveille is the highest-ranking member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets.
Other significant activities and developments during 2008:
- Initiated development of academic master plan to facilitate attainment of
aspirations of Vision 2020, the university's road map for becoming a
consensus top 10 public university by the year 2020. Murano outlined five priorities to guide the university's path to Vision 2020 in her so-called "AGGIE" speech during her investiture - Academic excellence, Globalization, Great value and accessibility, Infrastructure and Enlightened governance.
-Graduated the first class at Texas A&M University at Qatar, the
engineering-oriented branch campus in Doha and fully funded by Qatar
-Launched, through the Texas A&M Foundation, a $300 million scholarship initiative, "Operation Spirit and Mind," to raise funds for high-achieving and under-represented students, graduate fellowships and study-abroad experiences.
-Set a goal of having at least 25 percent of the student body participate in study-abroad or another form of gaining an international experience before graduation-part of the university's commitment to globalization.
While it was a rebuilding year for the football team, the Aggies won a
record eight Big 12 championships in 2008-more than any other school in the conference. Also, the Aggies topped the Longhorns in the "Lone Star Showdown" and played for the softball national championship.
For more news about Texas A&M University, go to http://tamunews.tamu.edu/.