University of North Texas-Dallas opens a $63M student center

Friday, September 6, 2019

DALLAS (AP) — Nearly two decades ago, state Rep. Helen Giddings and state Sen. Royce West helped lay the groundwork for a new four-year university in the heart of southern Dallas.

The Dallas Morning News reports seeing that dream come into focus, Giddings said, has been thrilling. Giddings and West recently took part in the grand opening of the University of North Texas at Dallas’ $63 million student center.

“I could not be more excited,” Giddings said. “As I drove up today, I couldn’t even imagine this hill, this building and all the students, all the excitement when we started years ago.”

The new 131,000-square foot building — well-appointed with a new library and fitness center, and housing the school’s advising, tutoring and financial aid offices — is yet another signpost that the university in southeast Oak Cliff is finding its way.

UNT-Dallas boasts of one of the most diverse student bodies in Texas: 85% of its students are Latino or African American, more than 70% of UNT-Dallas students are first-generation college students. Most come from middle- to low-income households, and most are from Dallas County.

Enrollment at the school, which officially gained its independence as a four-year university in 2009, has topped 4,100 across its undergraduate and graduate programs for the first time.

That growth has made the institution the fastest-growing public university in the state.

“Now, we’re involved in the conversation in this city; we’re at the table,” UNT-Dallas President Bob Mong said. “It’s a very different era.”

That new era, in many ways, was sparked by Mong, hired as the university’s president in July 2015 after a 46-year career in journalism, including a long stint as editor of The Dallas Morning News.

Since Mong’s arrival, UNTDallas has added 1,600 students, transitioning from a majority part-time student population to a younger, majority full-time undergraduate body. The number of graduates from its undergraduate and graduate programs also has increased from 475 in 2015 to 900 in the last school year.

Such enrollment growth has propelled expansions in facilities, staff, and funding.

In addition to the new student center, the university opened another building this summer — a $71 million renovation of Dallas’ old City Hall for its burgeoning law school.

The university is hiring 14 new faculty members this year in high-demand areas such as criminal justice and business analytics.

And during the most recent Legislative session, UNT-Dallas received the biggest increase in formula funding, 23.8%, of any other higher education institution in the state.

“Look, I’m no higher education genius,” Mong said. “There was a collective will to get out of startup. But we had been stuck in startup mode for many years: up one year, down the next. Everybody wanted to grow the university. So we had to build the confidence, involve everybody — students, faculty, staff.”

The school has found its successes by focusing on “three simple goals,” Mong said: community connectedness, growth and student success.

More than any other fouryear university in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, UNT-Dallas’ recruiting efforts are hyperlocal. Around 90% of its students come from Dallas and its ring suburbs.

Dallas City Council member Jaime Resendez, a 2008 graduate, said the mission of serving local students is critical to the city’s future.

After eight years in the military and two years at Dallas County Community College District’s Eastfield College, Resendez said he found a clearer focus at UNT-Dallas. After seeing other students with aspirations of going to graduate school, he decided to pursue a law degree -- eventually graduating from the University of Texas law school.