San Antonio native Dr. Jaime R. Garza is well-known for two things. First, a record-breaking football career that took him from Thomas Jefferson High School to Tulane University and the NFL, and landed him on multiple best-of lists. Second, a medical career that has included hands-on reconstructive surgery, research, teaching, and leadership at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, as well as service on the medical staffs of the NBA, NFL, NHL, and Olympic sports teams.
But as soon as school begins across the state this fall, increasing light will be shed on an area of service that just might become Garza’s most lasting contribution: a pattern of continued improvement in the Texas State University System (TSUS).
Appointed to the TSUS Board of Regents by Governor Rick Perry in 2011, Garza’s second elected term as its chairman ends this fall. Although the system’s more than 80,000 students did not see him on a daily basis, his leadership has significantly influenced their experience and the experiences of those who will follow for years to come.
The Texas State University System, the first university system in Texas and currently its third largest, spans the width of the state with its eight-member institutions, including Texas State University, Sam Houston State University, and multiple campuses of both Lamar and Sul Ross State Universities.
A nine-member Board of Regents makes high-level decisions that affect the students at these diverse campuses, ranging from how to spend the $1.19 billion two-year budget to approving building projects to overarching policy development that guides administrators and educators at the local level.
In conversation with the Rivard Report, Garza showed pride in the university system’s achievements during his tenure.
“I have simply never been involved in something so rewarding and so exciting as working with this dynamic board in this multitalented university system,” he said, pointing to a string of accomplishments in recruitment, retention, and financial stewardship.
Many of these successes support the 60x30TX plan, released as strategic guidance late last year by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The plan aims for 60% of 25-34 year olds to earn a postsecondary credential by 2030, a goal seen as crucial for Texas’ future economic viability.
The 60x30TX higher education plan contains supporting goals to address university completion rates, attainment of marketable skills, and student debt.
“Honestly, we were glad to get that guidance, but we’ve been working on these very things for years,” Garza said. And, he added, the numbers bear that out.
In terms of admissions goals, the 60x30TX plan accounts for demographic shifts predicting an increasing Hispanic population and aims to correct traditional college underrepresentation of Hispanic and Black communities. Recent years have seen significant TSUS success in this area. Between 2011 and 2015, Hispanic enrollment at TSUS institutions rose from 15,654 to 21,696, a 39% increase. In fact, it increased each year in that period, and another 8% just in the last year.
Black enrollment has seen impressive gains over the same period, increasing 14%, from 11,343 to 12,974. During the same time, overall enrollment increased 7%.
TSUS has focused on keeping students in school as well. Notably, even while the statewide one-year retention rate fell over the past decade, TSUS one year retention grew 5%. Moreover, there was recorded growth of all ethnic groups across the system.
Last year, TSUS institutions awarded more than 18,000 degrees and certificates, a 4% increase compared to the previous year, and an increase in keeping with the state average.
Since Garza arrived as a regent in 2011, minority students in particular have made significant strides in terms of graduation rates. There has been an increase in both black and Hispanic graduates each year, and the 2011-2015 period experienced a 39% increase in Hispanic graduates and a 41% increase in Black graduates.
TSUS has made noteworthy progress on college affordability too. In fact, tuition and fees have stayed significantly lower than the state average for more than 10 years – and were 8% lower than the state average last year.
According to Garza, doing that requires smart cost management and resource allocation across the system. The method works for TSUS. Its administrative cost per full-time student equivalent has risen less than 1% in the past five years, while the state average has increased more than 10 times that.
In line with 60x30TX aims for marketable skills, TSUS keeps a finger on producing well-rounded citizens while keeping students’ financial futures in mind. A focus on making sure they are well prepared for employment has placed its graduates into jobs or graduate programs at historically higher rates than the Texas average – 5% better than the state average for 2014, the latest year of recorded data.
The 60x30TX plan addresses individual desires for the future, employers’ needs to stay competitive, and the state’s economic future. For Garza, that translates into a single-minded focus on the student.
“Every decision we make has our students in mind,” he said. “When we graduate the best workers, citizens, and human beings we can, then everything else falls into place.”
As Garza prepares to hand the reins to a successor, TSUS achievements during his tenure as Board of Regents chair are expected to collect accolades.
“Dr. Garza’s passion for higher education stems, in part, from his own experience as a college student and the successful life and career that followed,” TSUS Chancellor Brian McCall said. “He’s strongly committed to academic excellence and serves as an outstanding role model for our students. A first-generation student himself, he has walked in the shoes of so many of our students who are pursuing productive and meaningful lives.
“The faculty, staff, and students of the Texas State University System are fortunate to have him as one of their champions on the Board of Regents.”
Garza cannot rest on past successes though, he said. In fact, he expects his remaining months to be busy ones.
“There’s much more to be done,” he said. “We are laser-focused on encouraging and helping young men and women gain knowledge, life skills, and the ability for lifelong learning. This is how we change the world.”
Top image: Dr. Jaime R. Garza, a San Antonio native, has been a member of the Texas State University System Board of Regents since 2011, and is its twice-elected current chair. Photo by Oscar Williams.