Anniversaries allow us to mark milestones in our lives. They can also serve as opportunities to look back on what’s been accomplished and how much remains ahead. My 25th anniversary this year as president of Incarnate Word offers me a chance for both.
When I became president of what was then Incarnate Word College in 1985, it was at a financial crossroads. With an enrollment of just under 1,300 students, it was one of the smallest private universities in Texas. The endowment was $1 million. The budget was $8 million. Combined giving by the Board of Trustees was $5,000 annually.
Instead of being recognized for its many outstanding academic programs, Incarnate Word was best known for its location, next to the old Earl Abel’s restaurant on the corner of Broadway and Hildebrand.
Not surprisingly, I’ve often been asked, “Why did you accept the job?”
Right from my first interview, when I was just 33, I saw lots of untapped potential. Yes, the presidency represented an immense challenge to me and my family, but it was also full of possibilities for what would soon be known as The College. It was an opportunity to revive a 104-year-old institution that was a vital part of San Antonio’s history. It wouldn’t be easy. And we had limited time for a turnaround to keep the venerable landmark open.
The first five years of my presidency laid the groundwork for the present. Recently termed “controlled chaos” by one of my assistants, those years were frequently exciting and never boring in their heady blend of success and frustration, often equally, as we moved The College forward.
Through the hard work of a talented team of faculty members, employees, trustees and members of the Congregation, the situation began improving in 18 months. Enrollment increased.
We reconfigured the board to include individuals capable of providing substantial financial support. Our new-found financial stability allowed the endowment to grow.
Today, the Mission keeps us linked to our heritage. Yet, the UIW of the 21st century bears little resemblance to the small college of yesteryear. The facilities have increased from 400,000square feet to more than 2.2 million. Student financial assistance, which was less than $500,000 in 1985, has increased to a mind-boggling $100 million. The endowment is $78 million. The budget is more than $160 million.
In 1985, we offered 56 fields of study at the undergraduate and master’s levels. Now there are nearly 80, including a Ph.D. in education, professional doctoral degrees in pharmacy and optometry, and a new doctoral program in physical therapy.
Our enrollment has increased from 1,298 students in 1985 to 7,708 this year, and the students reflect San Antonio’s racial and ethnic tapestry. International students from more than 60 countries make up nearly 14 percent of the enrollment; only two private universities in Texas have more international students.
In the past quarter century, UIW has grown into the largest Catholic university in the Southwest and the fourth largest private college in Texas. And we’re not done.
With the UIW brand firmly established in South Texas, our goal this decade is to expand it statewide, nationally and internationally. Four factors will allow us to accomplish this:
1) The student demographics already reflect the Texas of tomorrow.
2) The addition of football makes it possible for us to one day join the NCAA’s top athletic tier, Division I.
3) The success of our online programs will allow us to tap into new national and international markets.
4) Our campuses in China and Mexico, along with our 90-plus sister school relationships give us a strong global presence in more than 30 countries.
To achieve our goals, the ongoing vision needs consistency of leadership. It provides our community with a sense of comfort in uncertain times. Our employees agree. For the second consecutive year, UIW made the national Top 10 in the medium-sized category – universities with enrollments between 3,000 and 9,999 – of the annual Great Colleges to Work For survey conducted by “The Chronicle of Higher Education.” Eight individual categories received special recognition, including “Confidence in Senior Leadership.” That’s why I’m committing the next 10 years to UIW.
I encourage you to read the rest of The Word. This is our annual donor’s issue, our way of saying “Thank you” to the special people who contribute to the continued betterment of UIW.
Your generosity allows us to fulfill our goal of offering the best possible educational opportunities within a context of faith.
Finally, let me share with you the following comments from a letter I received several months ago from Sr. Cecilia Bush, who is a former president of my undergraduate alma mater, St. Mary of the Plains College in Kansas. “… Your Mission is a living and vibrant reality rather than a set of abstract ideas or mere words. The University of the Incarnate Word really means the university dedicated to the way of Jesus, the Word of God living among us.”
Special blessings on you and your loved ones for the remainder of 2010.
Louis J. Agnese Jr., Ph.D.