Walker delivers first State of the University address as UHCL's 6th president
In his first official State of the University address as University of Houston-Clear Lake’s sixth president, Richard Walker highlighted the university’s most noteworthy achievements over the last year, including its legislative priorities, its strong commitment to its federal designations as a Hispanic and Minority-Serving Institution, and its continued success in comprehensive student support.
“This is an opportune moment to reflect on our collective journey, celebrate our achievements, and set the stage for the exciting future that lies ahead,” Walker said. “A lot has transpired over the past year that has significant implications for the higher education sector, and for UH-Clear Lake in particular.”
Advocating for Legislative Support
Walker said that priorities affecting higher education in the 88th Legislative Session emphasized student affordability, with allocations for Hazelwood veteran legacies, university employee health, and the comprehensive university fund, and increased formula funding—all with the stipulation of freezing undergraduate resident tuition and fees for two years.
UHCL also received an allocation of $2.49 million through the Comprehensive Regional University funds to support at-risk students, as well as $1 million for our Student Teacher Education Program.
Walker explained that STEP, an initiative aiming to mitigate the teacher shortage by partnering with local school districts, would expand from six to eight districts. “Upon graduation, participants will be placed back into these supporting districts,” he said. “Additionally, we received legislative support for our Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, and an allocation for the Environmental Institute of Houston.”
Elevated National Rankings
The university’s dedication to its federal designations as an HSI and MSI are reflected in its top positions in recently-published Niche rankings. Walker said that UHCL was listed at No. 8 out of 118 Best HSIs in Texas, and No. 30 out of 572 in the U.S.
“These accolades not only validate our efforts, but open up new avenues for grant opportunities, further enriching our community in meaningful ways,” he said. “We are also doubling down on comprehensive student support by creating new synergies in our services and programs to cater to the unique needs of all our students, including underrepresented groups, first-generation students, and low-income students.”
Walker also noted a pivotal shift for UHCL last year, as U.S. News & World Report elevated UHCL’s designation from a regional to a nationally-ranked university.
“In our second year in this category, we continue to make impressive strides in the list of 2024 Best Colleges. UHCL now stands at No. 12 among the Top Public Institutions in Texas and No. 304 among all national universities—up 27 positions,” he said. “We’ve also made a significant leap in the ‘Top Performer for Social Mobility’ ranking, moving up 66 spots to No. 143 among national universities. These rankings are a testament to our collective efforts to deliver a nationally ranked and regionally focused experience for our students.”
UHCL has also been recognized in the Campus Ethnic Diversity and Least Debt categories, highlighting the university’s commitment to serving students and providing an affordable education.
Doubling Down on Student Support
Walker said that from September 2022 to August 2023, UHCL had been awarded 53 grants, resulting in over $7.2 million in funding, allowing the university to advance in numerous key areas.
Thanks to this funding, Walker explained that the university was able to advance in several critical areas, from exploring health disparities and offering vital workforce training, to providing students and faculty with valuable opportunities for research and development.
“One grant that particularly stands out is the nearly $950,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for our Basic Needs-Supporting Student Success program,” he said. “This significant funding serves to broaden financial support for students grappling with challenges in food, housing, transportation, medical care and technology.”
Addressing those needs, he continued, enhanced student retention and accelerated graduation timelines, setting the stage for students to swiftly transition into impactful careers.
“This initiative promises to benefit not just current students, but to lay a foundation for future generational mobility.”
Expanding Student Resources
In August, UHCL celebrated the grand opening of its Enrollment Welcome Center. “For a potential student wishing to tour our facilities, or a current student navigating financial aid, course registration, or advising, the Center will facilitate a seamless experience,” he said. “And, understanding the integral role that student well being plays in the UHCL community, we recognize the need for comprehensive mental health support and have augmented our focus in this critical area.”
The Counseling and Mental Health Center is at the forefront of this initiative, offering a spectrum of services that go beyond the traditional.
“We aim to create a culture that prioritizes mental health,” Walker said. “But, our responsibility to meeting the needs of our students goes beyond mental wellness. The new Center for Student Advocacy and Community, known as CSAC, offers resources and also aims to tangibly enhance all students’ experience. “It serves as a hub for all students to find support, resources and a sense of belonging,” he explained. “By intensifying our focus on these areas, we are equipping our students with the tools they need to navigate the complexities of life beyond graduation.”
Record-high Graduation Numbers and Beyond
This past year, Walker said, over 2,427 students crossed the stage in fall and spring commencement ceremonies. “This record-breaking number of graduates significantly enhances our institutional profile, and it’s an achievement in which we take great pride,” he said. “This exemplifies our universities dedication to student success and academic excellence, and sets a new benchmark for the level of achievement we aim to sustain and exceed.”
As the university continues to work toward attracting a new cohort of students, it is expanding academic offerings. Walker announced the newly-approved Master of Science in Nursing Education and Leadership program, and exploration into a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering, as well as a degree or concentration in commercial aerospace enterprise.
Walker added that these initiatives and many others would usher in an upcoming landmark event—the university’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2024. “Planning has commenced, and it’s shaping up to be a yearlong celebration filled with events, memories, and more forward-looking initiatives.”