Last fall, a bold vision for the University's future, Baylor 2012, was shared with faculty, staff, students and alumni. It proposed that within 10 years, Baylor would enter the top tier of American universities, while strengthening its distinctive Christian identity.
For Dr. Robert B. Sloan Jr., the leader behind the vision and Baylor's president since 1995, his dreams of what the University could become started when he was an undergraduate student here in the late 1960s.
"I've always thought that Baylor could be, should be, a great Christian institution ... that we could show that the Christian faith would lead us to excellence in thinking and learning," Dr. Sloan says. "I felt for many, many years that my calling in life was to be part of creating an institution that would honor Christ and be a reflection of a Christian worldview."
Dr. Sloan, as well as others at Baylor, believes that the world lacks a university that both exemplifies academic and intellectual excellence and espouses a serious, Christian confession in the Protestant tradition.
"We believe we are in a unique place in history, with unique resources ... to fill that void in the world," Dr. Sloan says. "To do that in 10 years, to undertake that enterprise at all, is almost unthinkable. We believe, as we are called to do that, it can be done."
In August 2000, faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members began the process of drafting Baylor 2012.
"It forced us as a community here at Baylor to make some choices, to ask ourselves hard questions: 'Who are we really?' It really caused us to think hard about our identity and to reaffirm our historical identity as a Christian institution in a Baptist tradition," Dr. Sloan says.
Baylor 2012 sets out 12 imperatives that address academic and community excellence. Some of these imperatives include achieving a $2 billion endowment, providing outstanding facilities and attracting world-class faculty and students.
Attaining that endowment is a pivotal part of what will fund Baylor 2012, says David Brooks, vice president for finance and administration. Through a hands-on approach, Baylor will be better able to increase its investments, despite the national economic slowdown.
"We look at the endowment as a very long-term endeavor," Brooks says. "Development, the raising of new money, is clearly a challenge in this kind of environment. That's a 'this-year' issue -- that's not a 10-year issue."
Initially, the change in tuition structure from an hourly rate to a fixed rate for incoming students will help fund several elements of Baylor 2012, Brooks says. Starting this fall, incoming students will pay $15,700 yearly for 12 or more hours per semester, while current students will be "grandfathered" under the hourly rate, with a capped annual tuition increase of 6.8 percent.
"We are one of the last major, private universities to go to a flat-rate tuition," Brooks says. "It's still going to be an outstanding value."
Even as new students arrive this fall, they will begin to see the impact of Baylor 2012. Early this spring, construction began on the Stacy Riddle Forum and the Harry and Anna Jeanes Discovery Center, which is part of The Sue and Frank Mayborn Natural Science and Cultural History Museum Complex. This summer, construction will begin on the new science building, a parking garage/office facility and, by the end of the year, a residential facility with 600 new beds.
"This is not a matter of charging tuition dollars in the first four years, but you won't see the benefits until years eight through 10. You're going to see tangible benefits, beginning on day one," Brooks says.
Baylor 2012 also has caught the attention of outstanding faculty from across the nation, says Dr. Donald D. Schmeltekopf, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
"There is no question that Baylor's academic standing in the world of higher education is going up," he says. "What is really interesting about Baylor 2012 is that one of the primary reasons for our rising stature comes from emphasizing our Christian identity. There is a supply out there of young, Christian scholars and senior faculty who want to be at a place like Baylor."
Another important component of Baylor 2012 is helping students discover their life vocations.
"Our mission is to nurture the person," Dr. Sloan says. "That means the campus is important, residence life is important, student life activities are important and interaction between professor and student is absolutely critical."
To give Baylor's extended family an opportunity to learn more about Baylor 2012, Dr. Sloan is conducting a multicity, cross-country tour to hold question-and-answer sessions at town hall-type alumni gatherings. He wants to be sure people catch the vision of what Baylor can become.
"I want the people who have loved Baylor and supported Baylor to hear the vision," he says, "and be very, very proud of their university."