For his approach to growing the University of North Texas at Dallas through collaboration, commitment and hard work, university President Bob Mong was presented with the ScholarShot Unsung Education Hero award during a luncheon Monday afternoon at Dallas Country Club.
The word "unsung" in this case, said Dan Hooper, the executive director of ScholarShot as he introduced President Mong, doesn't mean that nobody knows about it, but rather that the person being honored pursued their goals for the right reasons.
"UNT Dallas was on the verge of closing when Bob took over in 2015," Hooper said. "They had recruiters all over the country to have kids come to South Dallas to come to college. It wasn’t working out too well. Their retention rates were dropping, enrollment was dropping. One of Bob’s first acts was to say we’re in [southern Dallas], [these are] our customers, let's recruit kids from South Dallas who desperately need a degree, and a workforce that desperately needs kids of diversity with degrees."
ScholarShot was founded in 2009 to help at-risk students complete life-changing vocational, associate or undergraduate degrees. It also employs UNT Dallas alum and ScholarShot graduate, Kenya Silva, the organization's academic manager.
"That was Bob’s vision," Hooper said of President Mong. "Today, the university is growing and thriving. Under Bob’s leadership he’s really done a terrific turnaround."
In accepting the award, President Mong spent about seven minutes to explain to the gathering how he set about turning around UNT Dallas' early misfortunes and making it the fastest-growing state university in Texas.
Collaboration, as President Mong has consistently explained, is the key to the university's success in growing enrollment by 51 percent over the last three years, and increasing retention and graduation rates, while ranking No. 1 in the nation for lowest student debt upon graduation. By focusing on students in southern Dallas, by engaging in partnerships with entities such as the Dallas County Promise, Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD), DISD high schools and others, it has spurred a significant increase in minority students from low-income households and underserved communities who often fall through the cracks, to attend college.
"This is almost beyond belief, that Melinda Gates flew in a few months ago to talk to me, Michael Hinojosa, the superintendent of DISD, and Joe May, the chancellor of [DCCCD]. Why did she fly in? She flew in because we partner together -- DISD, community college, UNT Dallas. She flew in because that model is almost unprecedented in the country. Joe and I and Michael, we go down to Austin to testify in front of higher ed committees about this partnership. It shouldn’t be unusual, it just shouldn’t be, but it is."
President Mong said that 90 percent of UNT Dallas' enrollment, which spiked to more than 3,750 students to start the Fall 2019 semester, come from the inner-city Dallas. UNT Dallas' diversity -- 85 percent minority -- is the highest blended diversity in the state, and third-highest in the country.
"A university can keep debt low and it can partner with school districts, with great programs like ScholarShot, with the community college," President Mong said. "It's really important."