Big is good. Big can be very, very good.
That was a messages that University of Central Florida President John Hitt pushed hard Tuesday in his annual State of the University Address, at the student center of the university with the nations’ biggest student enrollment, 66,000 or so.
The message was Hitt’s detailed and sometimes passionate response to critics who’ve argued that big might not be good for a university, that smaller, focused schools might provide more quality and better student experiences.
Hitt, who has presided over UCF for 25 years and has engineered his educational philosophy of increased student access into more than tripling the enrollment during that time, was having none of it.
His message also is reflected in UCF’s new marketing and advertising campaign this fall, built around the theme, “Dream Big!” with the slogan, “This is big; big is only the beginning.”
“One thing that can’t be denied is we produce more baccalaureate degree and more degrees period than any other school in the country,” he said.
And that goes to his educational philosophy: providing a place where student enrollment is not so limited that deserving, motivated students cannot get in.
“There is nothing that changes a person’s life more dramatically, and emphatically, than higher education,” Hitt said. “It can alter the trajectory of entire families if at least one of them obtains a baccalaureate degree.”
UCF, he argued, has been able to provide tremendous resources, and and leverage those to also strive also for quality. He cited as evidence the funding UCF was able to earn during the period when the Florida Board of Governors was providing performance-based funding to the state’s public universities.
The funding data does not back up that smaller can be better, Hitt insisted.
“We were the only institution that never finished out of the top three, and and twice we finished in first place,” he said.
And smaller institutions, he argued, also cannot change unequal access to higher education faced by people from the bottom of the economic scale, compared with those at the top. He said people from the bottom economic quartile have just an 8 percent chance of going through college, while people from the top quartile have about an 80 percent chance.
“And it hasn’t changed much. So there’s a lot of work to be done,” Hitt said. “I don’t think we’re going to do it in tiny institutions.”