Shawn Williams for Dallas Morning News: The case for UNT-Dallas

Here’s an article that I wrote which appeared in Thursday’s Dallas Morning News. Thanks to Keven Ann Willey and Sharon Grigsby for the opportunity. The University of North Texas at Dallas deserves more support from our city and more attention from its citizens than it has received thus far. Dallas has a chance to address a shameful civic designation – the title of largest city in America without a four-year public institution of higher learning. We can erase that label by ensuring that UNT-Dallas becomes that first free-standing school as soon as possible.


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Given the historic nature of this endeavor and what it could mean for our city, I had figured the school would have gained a higher public profile by now. Sure, there are ancillary billboards about town, but I would like to see an all-out media assault, along the scale of what the Dallas County Community College District has executed in years past.

A new college is not as flashy as a football stadium or a gigantic outlet mall, but its impact would be far greater. We draft ex-athletes and celebrities to help spread good news and drum up support for those arenas and malls, so I propose we do the same for UNT-Dallas. For starters, why not identify and recruit a local personality who can partner with the campus’ CEO, John Ellis Price, to raise community awareness about the school?

Certainly, this school still faces enormous challenges. It was recently announced that UNT-Dallas will not even become a stand-alone campus, independent of the main Denton campus and offering its own degrees, until fall 2010 – at the earliest.

The school was originally set to open in 2007; that date was moved to 2009 when enrollment did not pick up as fast as officials had hoped. Current enrollment stands at 766 full-time students.

While this delay is a prudent move by Mr. Price and North Texas Chancellor Lee Jackson, every effort must be made to ensure that the opening date doesn’t slip further.

I can’t help but wonder if the school’s southern Dallas location has affected its ability to reach its goal of 1,000 full-time-equivalent students. The Houston School Road campus is situated in one of the most scenic parts of Dallas, with great access to Interstates 20 and 35E. Yet this area of southeast Oak Cliff is also one of the most forgotten sections of our city.

In reality, the school’s location presents an opportunity, not a negative, when you consider its proximity to many DISD schools. The state’s Closing the Gap plan calls for getting an additional 500,000 students to participate in higher education. According to the report, “reaching the goal will require increasing participation from every population group, but especially Hispanics and blacks.”

Those two groups make up 90 percent of the DISD student population and would make a solid base for the burgeoning campus. A public school here would help cut down on the expenses of moving away for college or the commuting costs for those looking at Arlington, Denton or Commerce.

Additionally, UNT-Dallas is offering scholarships of up to $2,500 to students who take on a full load of daytime classes. I’d like to see the city match that scholarship for DISD graduates who meet university’s scholarship requirements. Given that finances are generally the major factor for students who are trying to decide between colleges, such aid could be another way to help reach that 1,000-student goal.

The time is now for the people of Dallas to stand behind the University of North Texas at Dallas. State Sen. Royce West mustn’t be the only person in town championing the university. Let’s not squander this opportunity to achieve something so great.


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