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Texas Tech's out-going chancellor reflects on legacy, hints at future growth in Abilene

By Brian Bethel, Abilene Reporter-News, Texas
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

May 07--Departing Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance said Tuesday that Tech is "not through" with expansion and growth in Abilene, with a continued focus on health and medical programs on the horizon.

"We're still building," said Hance, Tech's third chancellor, who spoke to the Reporter-News' editorial board and others in an hourlong conversation.

When asked what, exactly, might be in the pipeline, Hance, who leaves his position in June after becoming chancellor in 2006, remained coy, explaining the school is "not ready to say" what such projects might be.

But some could emerge as soon as "the next 12 months," he noted, adding that Abilene's role as a regional health care center would continue to be the central component of Tech's presence locally.

"I think that's where the need is," Hance said.

A site for Texas Tech Health Sciences System's Laura W. Bush Institute for Women's Health is a definite possibility, he said.

Established in 2007, with locations in Amarillo, San Angelo, El Paso and the Permian Basin, the institute develops research and educational programs, with a focus on diseases either unique to women or that manifest themselves differently in women.

"We have planned for some time to have a Laura Bush institute in Abilene," Hance said, noting that the communities where the institute has a presence have "benefitted" greatly.

In general, "our job is to utilize the number of patients that are here so you have good clinical education and to produce more health care providers," Hance said, praising the presence and growth of Tech's School of Nursing and School of Pharmacy in Abilene.

The former, in particular, is key -- along with other local nursing programs -- in helping to lessen the impact of expected nursing shortages in Texas and in the Big Country.

"We started out small in nursing -- we're over 100 students now," he said. "My goal is for us to have 500 students."

Hance, 71, noted that when he came to Tech as chancellor, the school had no footprint in Abilene at all -- though things were already moving in such a direction.

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From an initial 40 students, TTHSC's Abilene presence has grown to 275 total students in areas ranging from biomedical sciences to nursing, he said.

Abilene, he said, has actually had the greatest increase pro rata in both students and buildings than "any other place since I've been here," Hance said -- largely because the community itself, including local foundations, have been eager to step up to help with various projects.

But the school in both its traditional four-year college and health incarnations plans to tread lightly around the area's existing four-year universities -- Abilene Christian University, Hardin-Simmons University and McMurry University.

While a merger with Angelo State University in 2007 was a "perfect marriage" for Tech, a similar move in Abilene is "not on the table right now."

"We've been successful in areas where we've been invited," he said. "We don't want to cause internal problems within a city."

While such might happen "some other way some day," it's "not something that we considered on my watch," he said.

Hance said that he does believe local colleges are doing a good job educating students, noting that candidates for graduate school, law school and medical school from those institutions come well-regarded.

Tech does have a strong connection with Cisco College, he said, at which one can start a four-year degree then smoothly transition to graduation from Tech.

Not every program has been successful.

An engineering program the school brought to Abilene in 2002 "financially would not take care of itself," he said, and that when approached with new programs, "if it won't break even or make money, we probably aren't going to do it."

With tight budgets at the state level, local community support is absolutely essential to any future expansion, he said.

Growing Up

Under Hance's watch, the TTU System has doubled in size, growing from two components to four institutions with the addition of ASU and the creation of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso in 2013.

Hance's "Vision & Tradition: The Campaign for Texas Tech" fundraising effort surpassed its billion-dollar goal nearly a year before schedule.

The school's endowment, since 2006, has increased about 80 percent, topping more than $1 billion in 2014.

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Hance, said he who preaches a doctrine of "dream no little dreams" to students, said he wanted his legacy to be that "he changed the face of the Texas Tech University System."

Crediting his mother, who read "Little House on the Prairie" books and enrolled him in classes that taught "expression," Hance, who himself has a degree in business administration from Tech, said those early experiences forged him into someone with the raw confidence needed to succeed.

He has a successful law practice and entered politics in 1974, winning a slot on the Texas State Senate.

Four years later, Hance won election to the 19th Congressional District, in 1981 authoring and winning passage of President Reagan's tax bill.

"The thing I worry about today is students who don't have a (similar) foundation," he said.

Increasing the number of minorities at Tech has been important, he said. Hispanics at Tech have grown from 11 percent to 19 percent and African Americans have doubled from 3 percent to 6 percent.

Hance sees Angelo State growing from its current 7,000 students to 10,000, while Texas Tech University's 34,000 students should easily grow to 40,000 by 2020, he said.

Under his watch, the school has increased its standards, accompanied by a bump in SAT scores.

"We've been aggressive in recruiting good students, he said.

And his goal to raise $1 billion happened, he said, despite the crash of the stock market in 2008 -- and suggestions by some to suspend fundraising.

"It's just like a jack rabbit in a hailstorm: You've got to keep on going," he said. He's also been willing, he said, to try out the occasional experiment, such as an effort by the Health Sciences Center's medical school to try to outperform President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Third- and fourth year medical students started seeing people who didn't have insurance, consulting with experts on campus in areas such as internal medicine and cardiology.

In addition, pharmaceutical companies were enticed to donate drugs for the same population, with the exception of narcotics.

Now five years out, the program has only spent a cumulative $125,000, he said.

"This year we'll see 3,000 patients," he said, noting that telemedicine makes such a cheap approach possible even in areas that don't have a medical school.

It's part of what Hance sees as an imperative to help solve real problems.

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"I feel like Obamacare was not good and it's a tremendous waste of money," he said. "There are other ways to do it, and we've proven that."

Keeping college affordable is a challenge, Hance said, and Tech has been the only public school in America that "two times in seven years" didn't raise tuition, fees, or room and board.

"We've learned to do more with less," he said, shaving dollars through such techniques as bid-based competition for who offers janitorial services.

Since tuition was deregulated in 2003, Hance said, Tech and other schools have seen less money from the state. In 2004, 53 percent of its budget came from state funds, compared to only 24 percent now.

Keeping costs reasonable is important, Hance said, who said he can't stand the thought of some future leader not having access to education because of cost.

Students who graduate from Texas Tech tend to carry around $17,000 in debt, he said, a figure he deemed a reasonable amount to pay off.

Students who receive dual college credit while still in high school can still benefit greatly from an on-campus experience, even it's its shorter than for some, he said.

"They're going to grow up a lot and it's going to have an impact on them," he said. Hance's own daughter took a fast track, becoming a practicing lawyer at age 23.

And not everyone needs or wants to go to college, Hance said. Vocational schools are "excellent" choices for many, he said.

He does, he said, encourage students who can't afford to go to a four-year school to "do the community college (route) and then go a four-year school."

"But they're better off getting the full college experience if they can spend four years at one spot," he said.

As he leaves his full-time position with Tech, he plans to still teach one course and help with government relations or fundraising.

"If they start calling every day, that's not going to work," he said.

And he plans to return to actively practicing law.

"I'm not ever going to retire, he said, "I want to someday put on my tombstone, 'He did not rust.'"

___

(c)2014 the Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas)

Visit the Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas) at www.reporternews.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Wordcount: 1491



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