SAN MARCOS — Texas will define its future by how it meets its ambitious higher education goals today, Denise M. Trauth said Friday as she was formally installed as the ninth president of Southwest Texas State University.
Trauth spoke at an investiture ceremony in Strahan Coliseum before an audience that included members of the Texas State University System Board of Regents, other academic dignitaries, the students, faculty and staff of SWT, and a variety of family, friends and community members gathered for the occasion.
“Undoubtedly, one of the most important epitaphs that will be written for this time will be one that describes the explosive growth of American higher education and the transformation that occurred throughout our society as a result of that explosion,” Trauth said.
Trauth outlined the four goals of the state’s Closing the Gaps initiative, which include enrolling an additional 500,000 students in Texas colleges and universities by 2015, increasing the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded statewide, increasing the number of nationally recognized academic programs in Texas and increasing the amount of federal funding for research going to Texas schools. She said how well those goals are met will define the future of Texas.
Trauth said Texas needs more major research universities if it is to keep pace with other states and with its own higher education goals.
“We need more universities that are both big in terms of enrollment and big in terms of their role as economic engines for the state,” she said.
Trauth said that Texas does not rank well among the nation’s largest states in terms of higher education enrollment. Texas has 4.9 percent of its citizens enrolled in higher education, compared to 6.1 percent in California, 6 percent in Illinois and 5.6 percent in New York. The national average is 5.4 percent.
“In an age when the lifetime earnings of our citizens is directly related to their participation in higher education, these figures should cause us to worry. In an era when knowledge is this country’s most important natural resource, these figures should cause us to worry. And, at a time when the divide between rich and poor is increasing, these figures should cause us to worry,” said Trauth.
SWT has an important role to play in the future of higher education in Texas, she said.
“We at Southwest Texas have come to believe that we have a very special role to play in the future of Texas,” she said. “We are among the institutions that either will or will not transform the economic base of this state, will or will not prepare our citizens for the complicated issues democracy will pose in this new century, will or will not create a society that is as inclusive as it is diverse.”
Trauth said the Closing the Gaps initiative could rank among the transformational moments in American higher education, along with the creation of land grant colleges, the normal school movement, the G.I. Bill and the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Those events all allowed greater access to higher education for new groups of people, and she said Closing the Gaps should do the same.
“Our goal in this state is to provide seats in college classes not only for those young people whose family history predicts that they will go to college, but also for those who in another era almost certainly would not participate in higher education. Forty years ago this month, SWT was racially integrated. It is fitting that in memory of the brave young women who forced us to open our doors more widely, we pause to reflect on the importance of participation in higher education,” said Trauth.
The future, said Trauth, will demand much of SWT.
“I believe that there has never been a time in the history of this great country when higher education was more important. There has never been a group of children more in need of our colleges and universities. We at Southwest Texas State University stand ready to heed their call; it is indeed time to build their tomorrow,” she said.