With the start of a new year and new decade, Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec took time to sit down and discuss the goals of the university in the coming year, while also reflecting on the previous decade of growth.
“I think when you talk about your priorities and goals for the coming year you look back at what you’ve just done,” Schovanec said. “What you felt represented progress, where there is a need for improvement.”
In 2010, the total enrollment at Tech was reported as 31,637, according to the TTU Institutional Research website. Over the last decade, enrollment has grown nearly 9,000 students, as Schovanec expects total enrollment to be near 40,000.
“We’ve had record enrollment,” Schovanec said, “but more importantly I think was the fact that we set a record for first year retention, five year graduation rate and four year graduation rate, so it has been a priority of Texas Tech for many years to emphasize the student experience and student success, and that’s going to continue to be a priority in the coming year.”
Despite record enrollment, Schovanec stressed the importance of continuing to expand and grow the diversity at Tech in the coming years.
“Diversity has increased significantly over the years but we need to do a better job,” Schovanec said. “Maybe intensify our efforts to recruit students of color. You know we are a Hispanic serving institution, with around 28% Hispanic, and around seven percent African American, black students.”
Over the winter break, a racist video circulated on social media, and as part of the university’s reaction, Schovanec said he had several discussions with the Black Student Association on how to make the campus more racially diverse moving forward.
“Those discussions were led by the Black Student Association,” Schovanec said. “We will be initiating some new recruitment practices and measures to reach out to those schools where we have a great representation of African American black students, but also all student groups to which we will add to the diversity of the campus.”
Another area Schovanec said Tech will continue to focus on is the student debt crisis. Last year, Tech had nearly 3,300 freshmen that were recipients of the Presidential Scholarship, which aims to reduce the cost of tuition among first-year students.
“We had more than 3,300 freshmen (in 2019) who were Presidential Scholars,” Schovanec said. “Received presidential scholarships were about 1,000 in 2016. We are increasingly focused on trying to support students of need who don’t have the resources necessary to think that Texas Tech is in their future.”
As student debt continues to be a hot topic in America, Schovanec said there has been talks on the ways that Tech can aim to help reduce the amount of debt the average student incurs.
“At the conclusion of the legislative session we talked about what we can do to be an example statewide and nationwide as to how Texas Tech is trying to address the issue of student debt,” Schovanec said. “Financial support that I’ve just described as part of that but also providing students with opportunities to improve their financial literacy, making sure that we do everything we can to see them graduate as quickly as possible because the longer you’re here, the more debt you’ll accumulate.”
To better understand the goals for the year ahead, Schovanec reiterated the Tech system accomplishments of the year prior, which included the groundbreaking of the School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo.
“Chancellor Tedd Mitchell has referred to the last legislative session as the most consequential in 50 years,” Schovanec said, “and why is that we were very successful in achieving the goals we set out. Going into that session each component of the system had their priorities. For instance, in El Paso with the Health Sciences Center, it was to move forward with the dental school.”
The SVM had its groundbreaking in Sep. 2019, with classes to begin in the fall of 2021. The SVM is the culmination of years of work, with former System Chancellor Robert Duncan discussing the project back in 2015.
“Our main priority was to seek financial support from the legislature to move forward with the assessment and the School of Veterinary Medicine,” he said. “We received the funding we requested. And since then we’ve also been granted degree program approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Those are two enormous steps that have made the best school possible.”
This year, the Board of Regents will meet in February to discuss potential projects that will receive funding in 2020.
“We are going to the Board of Regents in February with an agenda item that is related to building a new Academic Sciences building that will be right behind chemistry and physics,” Schovanec said. “It’d be a very large facility with space for both instruction and research. Many of our science labs are substandard. And this will be one way to address that problem.”
Looking further back, Schovanec discussed the changes that Tech has undergone over the last decade, which included a major shift in the availability and amount of online courses that were both offered and taken in that time.
“When I was serving as provost, the number of hours that we taught online was about 50,000 student credit hours per year,” Schovanec said. “This last year that figure approached about 200,000. What’s interesting to note is that most of those hours are taken by students on this campus, I believe, more than 70 percent.”
Another focus for Schovanec over the coming years will be Tech’s centennial celebration in 2023. While classes started in the fall of 1925, the University was established on Feb. 23, 1923. With the 100-year anniversary approaching, the university has set up a planning committee for the celebration.
“I should have mentioned that it’s one of the important initiatives of this year. So, our centennial will be Feb. 19, of 2023,” Schovanec said. “And we’ve already organized a committee that’s going to oversee the planning for the centennial celebration. It will kick off in December of 2022 at the Carol of Lights. We’ll have a number of events throughout the year, and then conclude with the Carol of Lights in 2023.”
For Schovanec, the centennial holds a special meaning, as he is currently nearing his 40th year at Tech, having worked at the university since 1982.
“I thought it was a great school when I came. I thought this campus was beautiful when I showed up here in 1982,” Schovanec said. “And yet, I look at the progress we’ve made, and it’s just amazing. It’s much larger, but yet it still feels like Texas Tech. And I think that anybody who’s a Red Raider has much to be proud of. So it’s been an extraordinary blessing to be at school for so long.”
Originally working in the math department at Tech, Schovanec climbed the administration ladder and served as chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, interim dean and then dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, interim president of the university and provost.
“I could tell you, my goal was to get tenure. I didn’t want to get fired,” Schovanec said. “Once I got tenure, then you start worrying about what am I gonna be promoted for, then you achieve that and I became Chair of Math. I never intended to leave the math department. I had a schedule, I wanted so many publications, I had some grant funding, I had graduate students. It’s a great life being a professor, it is a great life. And I became an interim dean and dean and so on.”
Eventually, Schovanec became president of the university, taking over in 2016.
“I never, never thought I would be an administrator. And so, in some ways, I feel like I’ve gone to a different planet,” Schovanec said. “Some days, I’m sure of it. But there’s so much good. It’s hard not to be excited.”
With all of the changes and progress Tech has made in Schovanec’s tenure, he said he has never met a student who didn’t enjoy his or her experience at Tech. Looking forward, his goal is to continue to expand and improve the student experience, while growing the diversity of the university.
“Well, first of all, you don’t need me to tell you that this is a great university. Right? We know that since I hear that from the students I’ve talked to. And in fact, I always ask students when I meet them, ‘How’s your experience been?’ and they say, wonderful. I’ve never had a student tell me it was terrible, because maybe they just are too polite to do that,” he said. “But one of the wonderful things about Texas Tech is the sense of community, support and enthusiasm that come from the school.