In 1931, Baylor President Samuel Palmer Brooks encouraged students past, present and future to dream big dreams. “Do not face the future with timidity nor with fear,” he wrote in what is known as The Immortal Message to the University’s students and alumni. “Face it boldly, courageously, joyously.”
As Baylor begins the next phase of a remarkable tradition of excellence in higher education, the University is building on a firm foundation that others have established on this campus. Today, the Baylor community stands on the shoulders of generations of scholars, teachers, and administrators who, like President Brooks, tirelessly contributed to the great enterprise of this Christian institution of higher learning.
As the Baylor community takes its first steps into another 175 years of service, it is engaging in a University-wide effort to grow Baylor into the preeminent Christian research university and a beacon of leadership among American colleges and universities.
A central theme in the years ahead will be Baylor’s continued blending of interdisciplinary research with transformational education. Building upon Illuminate, the University’s strategic plan, Baylor has announced purposeful, holistic plans to pursue Research 1/Tier 1 (R1/T1) recognition.
Today, 130 American college and universities are classified by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as R1, which are doctoral-granting institutions with the “highest research activity.” Baylor is among the 131 schools currently classified as R2 — doctoral institutions with “higher research activity.” Tier 1 universities aspire to higher levels of excellence not only in teaching and research, but throughout the institution in services to students, the arts, athletics and more.
Moving to R1 status will be a tremendous leap and will take years of unwavering, strategic effort as a community of scholars and supporting network of alumni and friends to achieve. Recognition for faculty research and Baylor’s collective scholarly and creative enterprise will be the keys to success.
Central to achieving R1/T1 recognition will be improving the University’s performance in a range of measurable indicators, from external funding for research and the number of doctoral graduates to the quantity of faculty publications and the number of research staff, including postdoctoral and other doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers. Baylor is making significant strides in these areas. For example, Dr. Amanda Hering, BS ’99, associate professor of statistical science in the College of Arts and Sciences — in collaboration with researchers at 18 other institutions (most of which are R1 universities) — was awarded $100 million over five years to support research at the intersection of water quality and data science. [See Algorithmic Academics] This past summer Baylor graduated 58 research doctorates — the most for any graduation in Baylor’s history. Looking toward the immediate future, the University announced plans to hire 65 professional researchers over the next three years — more than double the current number — as part of a new postdoctoral researcher hiring program. “Postdocs” — academic shorthand for those who have completed doctoral programs and then pursue additional skills and experiences in research to prepare for their academic careers — deliver invaluable assistance to faculty. Postdocs manage laboratory activities and daily research tasks, as well as provide high-level expertise and intellectual capital to advance the meaningful work taking place in a professor’s lab or group.
“Baylor University’s vision affirms that the world needs a preeminent research university that is unambiguously Christian, and we are uniquely positioned to achieve this goal by building on Baylor’s historic strengths and strategically investing in new areas of research and service,” Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., says. “Through top-tier research, scholarship and external funding support, R1 universities bring their voice to bear in addressing our world’s most meaningful challenges. As Baylor achieves preeminence as a Christian research university, it enables researchers from throughout the University to infuse the quest for solutions, with Baylor’s distinct voice and Christian mission.”
The recruitment and retention of qualified, gifted, nationally renowned faculty who are committed to students is critical to the University’s future. Competition among top-tier universities for accomplished faculty is high. Only through a robust faculty endowment can Baylor establish the kind of prestigious positions that attract today’s outstanding scholars from around the world. This visionary investment in human capital yields exponential returns in the life of the University.
“In addition to understanding our world, the Department of Biology at Baylor believes it must do research that tries
to heal our world.”
One recent addition to Baylor’s faculty who exemplifies the type of preeminent scholar-teachers attracted to the University’s mission is Dr. Dwayne Simmons, The Cornelia Marschall Smith Endowed Professor of Biology and department chair. Simmons has dedicated his internationally recognized research, now conducted through the Simmons Lab at Baylor, to studying how sensory cells in the ear and neurons in the brain respond to aging. These sensory cells and neurons are connected by wiring that degenerates over time, a common disconnect revealed in many senior adults as hearing loss. On a broader level, he is pursuing breakthroughs in the auditory system that could impact areas far beyond hearing.
“In addition to understanding our world, the Department of Biology at Baylor believes it must do research that tries to heal our world. We have an incredible reputation for training future physicians and healthcare workers,” Simmons says. “We want to be training the next generation of students and researchers who will be developing cures that heal the sick. It is vital that we bring along passionate researchers who will continue to pursue solutions through research.”
Endowed faculty positions like the one held by Simmons fuel the continuity and caliber of academic leadership necessary to develop nationally recognized programs that produce groundbreaking research and learning experiences. The faculty leaders who fill these positions bring subject matter expertise, research experience and professional connections in academia and industry. These attributes attract talented students, accomplished colleagues and grant funding — essential resources for equipping labs and implementing programs that elevate Baylor’s academic enterprise, driving continued investment and interest.
Graduate professional education has become an increasingly prominent part of the landscape of American higher education. Baylor has actively moved into this space in the past two years, and academic offerings in this area have and will continue to provide critical funding for the University’s burgeoning research enterprise.
Strategic partnerships with organizations on the leading edge of delivery platforms for online professional education have provided a framework for growth beyond what Baylor could have done alone. Through highly successful programs such as the Doctor of Education in Learning and Organizational Change, Master of Public Health with a specialization in Community Health, and Doctor of Occupational Therapy and Doctor of Physical Therapy, the University is preparing leaders for impact. Baylor currently offers 14 online graduate professional degrees. Many of the course models immerse students in program components on campus during their coursework and most integrate project work and field experience in the degree programs. The University’s online programs are led by gifted Baylor faculty.
Such new digital education programs have enabled the University to reach students who are passionate about advancing their careers in a variety of service-oriented fields, wherever they may be based. From May 2018 to August 2019, Baylor’s total online degree program enrollment grew from about 300 students to about 1,100 — almost quadrupling in a little more than a year. These programs also provide significant revenue. Since fiscal year 2013-14 to the end of the most recent fiscal year in May 2019, the University’s annual net revenue from online degree programs has gone from zero to almost $10 million. Growth is certain in the online professional arena as Baylor seeks to equip professionals with both the academic knowledge and understanding of life’s calling through innovative delivery of academic programs.
The University has found that distinguished scholars from top universities around the country who believe in Baylor’s Christian mission are eager to come to the University, where they can teach and continue their research at a faith-based institution.
Baylor’s drive toward becoming an R1 university directly and powerfully advances the University’s tradition of transformational undergraduate education alongside creating new opportunities for graduate students. By integrating their scholarly research and activities with the subject matter of their courses, faculty members bring new life to classroom instruction and spark the imaginations of undergraduate students. In addition, many Baylor students collaborate with professors and take advantage of undergraduate research programs — a form of engaged learning that helps prepare them for graduate school, medical school, and other areas of professional life.
The acceleration of faculty scholarship expands students’ participation in discoveries that greatly benefit society and helps them realize their calling. As servant-leaders prepared for careers in existing and emerging fields across industry, academia and the medical professions, Baylor graduates go on to serve as ambassadors for the University and its mission around the world.
The University’s McNair Scholars program exemplifies this impact, preparing first-generation and other underrepresented students to successfully navigate a path to a doctorate program following graduation through immersion in research and a variety of scholarly activities. The program, launched in 2017, also hosts the annual McNair Research Conference, highlighting student research presentations from McNair Scholars at Baylor and around the country, as well as other University undergraduates engaged in faculty-mentored research.
Growing in capacity and impact as a research institution strengthens Baylor’s presence as God’s hands in the world. The research faculty, staff and students are undertaking now and will continue to pursue is being undertaken in order to make a difference in the world — to reflect Christ’s compassion for fellow human beings and his desire for our welfare and personal flourishing. For example, The Jackson Family Chair for Baylor in Latin America, an endowed position announced in September 2019, will leverage the University’s strength in water research to create a more significant presence in Latin America and provide opportunities for researchers in a broad array of disciplines, such as public health and environmental humanities, to come alongside Baylor’s aquatics research in impactful ways.
Another example of the service-oriented scholarship that is growing in scope across campus and will be a cornerstone of the University’s future is the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, which integrates research and practice through projects such as the Texas Hunger Initiative, the Research Fellows program, the Global Hunger and Migration Project and the Hunger Data Lab, among others, and will continue to conduct interdisciplinary hunger and poverty research with local, state, national and global relevance. As the University becomes a recognized leader on poverty research and integrating social science with social responsibility, students and faculty are given opportunities to significantly change people’s lives.
The numbers bear out Baylor’s success in providing a transformational undergraduate experience. U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 rankings list the University at No. 79 among National Universities, with several programs and opportunities for undergraduates highly rated. Baylor ranked No. 8 for Best Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Programs. The University also ranked No. 8 in First-Year Experiences for building into the curriculum first-year seminars or other academic programs that bring small groups of students together with faculty or staff on a regular basis. Baylor was ranked No. 20 in the Best Undergraduate Teaching category for strong commitment to undergraduate teaching. Further, the retention rate among all Baylor undergraduates from fall 2018 to fall 2019 held steady at 91.6 percent, which remains the highest ever at the University.
“Baylor University has a compelling academic mission and a track record of success as we integrate teaching and research excellence with our unwavering Christian faith,” Dr. Kevin P. Jackson, vice president for student life, says. “Our focus on outstanding undergraduate education has been a cornerstone of the University for generations and will continue to guide our path as we strengthen our programs in the future.”
In the coming years, Baylor will continue to recruit, retain and graduate an academically excellent and diverse student body. In addition, the University will increase the number and diverse nature of high-impact programs that foster transformational learning. Undergraduate research opportunities, internship offerings, and experiences through study abroad and discipline-specific missions integrate all of the factors that engage students in the transformative experiences that distinguish a Baylor education.
Baylor continues to pursue innovative strategies to develop the whole person, with a holistic approach to education. In that regard, the University began a Baylor Spirituality and Character Study, a longitudinal study to track the long-term impact of a Baylor education on a person’s faith and character. The study will help the University better understand where students are in their faith, why they change, how they grow and what is most impactful during their time at Baylor, and how the University can support their spiritual and character development.
“It’s important for Baylor, as well as other faith-based colleges and universities, that we understand what most influences the spiritual and character development of young people while they’re in college,” Livingstone says. “We want to ensure this continues to be an important part of their life after college and that Baylor continues to stay true to our Christian mission.”
The University welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor also enjoys the support of an alumni community numbering more than 160,000 that extends around the world to provide a powerful network of support for the University.
Baylor’s future will be collaboratively shaped by all members of the Baylor Family, with each constituent group providing vital input. The Board of Regents, comprised of leaders in diverse fields — many of them alumni — and including Alumni-elected Regents, serve alongside representatives from the faculty and student body to guide the University.
The Baylor Alumni Board of Advocates works closely with Baylor Alumni staff to shape opportunities for engagement among alumni, parents and friends of the University.
As Baylor grows and adapts to meet the needs of time and place, one thing about Baylor will never change — its Christian commitment. Previous generations of Baylor graduates have embraced the responsibility to be salt and light in the world, and, in so doing, to “light the ways of time.” That call continues to ring true today and for the future. The Baylor community knows that when it influences the world from the distinctive place Baylor occupies at the crossroads of faith and academic excellence, they are acting out of a conviction that this is what God has called them to do.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his listeners — and continues to tell us today — that we are “the light of the world,” noting that “a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
For more than 240 years, America has served as this “city on a hill” for the world, casting forth the empowering light of democracy and inspiring peoples around the globe to greater achievement in their lives.
Rooted in the spirit of pioneering Baptists in the Republic of Texas, Baylor University has similarly served as a source of illumination and inspiration to the surrounding world. As a “city on a hill” within American higher education, Baylor stands apart as a preeminent Christian research university that has committed itself to achieving greater levels of discovery and service. The future holds great promise. Working together, the Baylor light will shine ever brighter for decades to come.