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SHSU--Fastest Growing University in Texas

Last fall in the 35 public Texas colleges and universities, there was an enrollment increase of 2,875 students. At Sam Houston State University alone, the increase was 975 students, or just over a third of the entire state total.

So what's going on at Sam, with 2005 fall enrollment of 15,318, the fastest growing public college or university in Texas?

James F. Gaertner, SHSU president, recently told a group of alumni in Brenham about the university's $150 million construction program. He also talks about other factors such as getting brighter students, increasing retention through an award-winning counseling program, new degrees and new programs.

The university offices most concerned with serving all the new students, and assuring that the trend continues, are not resting.

Heather Thielemann, vice president for enrollment management, took over the area almost two years ago that now includes undergraduate admissions, the registrar's office, financial aid, residence life, career services and the visitor center.

Thielemann said that upgrading services such as financial aid and career counseling has been a recent focus, as well as better coordination and communication through technology.

An example--one piece of software that enrollment management is installing will ask students what their goals are and will be used to help departments predict the areas in which faculty and classes should be added.

With the welcome growth in student numbers has come a corresponding increase in new faculty. Gaertner often mentions that SHSU's faculty-student ratio is 1:22, the same as it was when Sam Houston Normal Institute was founded in 1879.

David Payne, provost and vice president for academic affairs, has been charged with matching the student growth with faculty hires.

"This is part of a program to maintain academic quality by ensuring that we have the resources to meet the demand," said Payne.

Retaining more students has also helped the SHSU enrollment number climb, and better students are more likely to stay in school.

The nationally-recognized Student Advising and Mentoring Center (SAMCenter) is greatly responsible for increasing the freshman one-year retention rate from 61 percent to 71 percent in the past six years.

Admission standards increases have contributed to SHSU's average SAT for entering freshmen rising 976 four years ago to 1038 last fall. This is especially significant because the state average last fall was 993 and the national average was 1026.

"Students want to go to a school where they are challenged by their peers, and a school that is not the least expensive or the most," said Thielemann. "We fit that description, which added to the national recognition that many of our programs receive, makes us a top choice."

What students find when they come to Sam, or when they ask their friends who are current students about it, is a campus that is busy.

SHSU has received statewide attention for its Alcohol Abuse Initiative and national recognition for the American Democracy Project. Many academic programs have received national attention as well, such as the math program, which was named one of the top eight nationally.

A recently announced $50 million capital campaign, the first in school history, will allot large chunks of the expected gifts to benefit student scholarship endowment and faculty support.

"The capital campaign gives the message that SHSU cares," said Frank Holmes, vice president for advancement. "The reason more students are enrolling is that they have found a beautiful, friendly campus where they know the faculty by name and the faculty know them by name. It is a caring and nurturing academic environment."

There are many examples of relatively new programs that fit this caring tradition that Gaertner has sought to continue. They include the McNair Program for students who might not otherwise have the motivation or means to pursue graduate work, Project CONNECT to improve retention, graduation, and transfer rates at SHSU and area community colleges, and articulation agreements with all area community colleges to improve the transfer process.

In addition to the community college agreements, SHSU is involved in Texas's Closing the Gaps initiative to get more students into colleges through several programs that contribute indirectly.

These include the Bilingual Counseling Training Grant Program, a Bilingual Principal Training Grant Project, Project PULSE (Preparing Underrepresented Leaders in Special Education), a Department of Education Safe and Drug Free Schools Child Lures Prevention Program, and Project ELLA (English Language and Literacy Acquisition).

SHSU continues to add niche programs such as forensic psychology and science, the banking program, which offers one of only three banking degrees in the nation and the only one in Texas, and the PGA/Professional Golf Management Program, of which there are only 17 in the U. S. and none other in Texas.

A Houston newspaper reporter called recently to ask if SHSU enrollment was growing so fast that the university was having to expand into The Woodlands. As with most rumors, there was just a hint of truth in that speculation.

SHSU enrolls about 2,500 students, or three out of every four of those attending classes offered at the North Harris Montgomery Community College District University Center at The Woodlands.

There are six cooperating institutions--Texas A&M, University of Houston, UH Downtown, Texas Southern and Prairie View. There are more than 20 programs in which you can obtain degrees at the University Center without ever having to come to the Huntsville campus.

SHSU and the community college district are discussing the possibility of an SHSU-owned facility in The Woodlands, but it is not because of enrollment growth in Huntsville, which could reach 20,000 in the next five years.

"If we can come to an agreement that is mutually beneficial to area students and potential students, and to those involved in the consortium, it could happen," said Gaertner. "But we are not running out of space on our grand old campus."

Trevor Thorn, director of undergraduate admissions, travels throughout the state for college recruitment nights at high schools and community colleges. He is not surprised about all the buzz he hears about SHSU.

"One of the questions I hear all the time from high school counselors and teachers is 'What are y'all doing at Sam? I have so many students that are interested,'" said Thorn. "Sometimes the answer to that one takes a long time."


SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
May 6, 2006
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Writer: Jennifer Gauntt
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