This fall, University of Houston-Clear Lake will be experiencing the most significant change in its 40-year history since the university’s opening in 1974 when, for the first time, it welcomes its first freshman and sophomore students.
University administrators, faculty and staff have worked tirelessly since we first gained approval from the Texas Legislature in 2011 for what was then termed downward expansion, and later more aptly called the four-year-initiative.
We realized quickly that we had a lot of work to do to get our university ready for the new students.
Because UHCL has been upper level, the average student is a little older (about 31) and nontraditional.
They work full-time and meet family needs while also attending school in the evening.
This will change — maybe not right away — but a little every semester as we add more than 250 students each year at the freshman and sophomore levels.
A brief look at the last 40 years provides a timeline of the evolution of UHCL from a graduate center to an upper-level to a four-year university.
It all began with a letter in the 1960s from the director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, Dr. Robert Gilruth, who wrote to University of Houston President Phillip Hoffman requesting a greater presence in the Clear Lake area.
Initially, graduate courses were offered to serve aerospace employees at the center and area contractors.
In 1971, the Texas Legislature approved the establishment of the University of Houston at Clear Lake City.
By 1983, the name had changed to University of Houston-Clear Lake, and we have been evolving ever since.
Fast forward to 2014 — UHCL now serves more than 8,000 students, 60 percent of them undergraduate and 40 percent of them graduate.
UHCL has been designated a Hispanic Serving Institution, while at the same time attracting more than 1,000 international students.
With annual graduating classes exceeding 2,000, UHCL now has almost 60,000 alumni.
And, now, in less than six weeks, UHCL will add its first freshman and sophomore students.
As is often the case for university presidents, I’ve had several speaking engagements since the university gained approval for the four-year initiative in 2011, and the one thing I tell people about the addition of freshmen and sophomores is that the time is right for this change.
It will not take away from the 2-plus-2 agreements we have enjoyed with our partnering community colleges.
We will maintain those relationships and will continue to work closely with their students as they matriculate to UHCL.
But, transitioning to a four-year university is necessary for us at this point in our evolution as an institution of higher education.
We are one of the last upper-level universities left in the country.
UHCL has established freshman admission standards that are different from, but complementary to, both the University of Houston and the University of Houston-Downtown so students across the Houston metro region will have options for enrollment within the University of Houston System.
We began taking applications in August 2013 for the fall 2014 and have received more than 2,300 applications.
In June and through July, we have been and still are continuing to host our first freshman and sophomore orientations.
It is exciting to see the recently graduated high school students with their parents attending Student Orientation and Registration, known around UHCL by its acronym SOAR, making choices about their futures.
UHCL is committed to offering high-quality, nationally accredited programs that meet the needs of both our students and area employers.
Our focus is on both access to and success in higher education, and partnerships with area school districts and community colleges to enhance the education levels and employment opportunities for our students.
While we are very proud of UHCL’s first 40 years, we look forward to the next 40 years to further the quality of life and economic development of our city, region, state and beyond.
Welcome freshman and sophomore students.
UHCL is looking forward to helping you create your future.
William A. Staples is president of University of Houston-Clear Lake.