President Hitt: A 25 year legacy

Over the last quarter of a century, the University of Central Florida has been presided over by Dr. John C. Hitt.

President Dr. Hitt and his wife Martha joined the UCF and Central Florida community on March 1, 1992. Hitt is UCF’s fourth president since it’s opening in June of 1963.

Dr. Hitt is also the longest-serving president in the State University System of Florida and has been president of UCF for nearly half of the time the university’s doors have been open. In his inauguration speech, Hitt established his vision for the future of UCF with five key goals in mind.

The first of which was to offer the best undergraduate education available in Florida. In the 1991-1992 school year enrollment was at 21,267 students, ranking fifth in Florida and 115th in the nation. Compared to the 2016-2017 school year’s enrollment of 64,318 students, nearly tripling the student population and making UCF the second largest university in the nation.

“With all of the benefits higher education offers individuals and society, one question has always bothered me: Why do so many universities pride themselves on whom they keep out?” Dr. Hitt said. “The standard practice for decades has been for institutions to boast about how exclusive they are and how many applications they reject.”

One in four UCF students are the first to attend college in their family. An experience they share with Dr. Hitt himself, who was inspired to go to college by his father.

“My father’s dream was for me to go to college,” Dr. Hitt said, a task his mother would help him accomplish after his father’s passing. “I hope he would see that I try to make a difference in people’s lives. That I care about our community.”

Among his goals, Dr. Hitt wanted to ensure that UCF became America’s leading partnership university. His strive and persistence with leaders of the community have led to economic progress within Central Florida as well as the state.

“America’s Partnership University” and “America’s Leading Partnership University” are now trademarked slogans for UCF.

Key partnerships include the construction of the UCF College of Medicine at Lake Nona, which is expected to generate up to 30,000 job opportunities and an economic benefit of $7.6 billion for the region. Also, the DirectConnect program which offers students at state community colleges a direct path to UCF upon graduation.

“If you work hard and successfully graduate from a local state college, we have a place for you at UCF,” Dr. Hitt said.

The average freshman SAT score upon Dr. Hitt’s arrival to UCF was a 1011. The average score today is a 1262 and the average GPA for incoming freshman is a 4.0.

Other goals Dr. Hitt aimed to achieve was international prominence in key programs of graduate study and research as well as to provide international focus to UCF’s curricula and research programs. In his time as president, research dollars increased 413 percent, from $28.4 million to $145.75 million annually as of today.

In addition, Dr. Hitt wanted the university to become more inclusive and diverse. Minority enrollment has grown to 44.8 percent of the student body compared to the 15.4 percent in 1992.

“There is no better tool than a college degree to improve social and economic mobility,” Hitt said. “College graduates’ earnings averaged almost 70 percent more than high school graduates, according to 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics data.”

Of the 297,266 degrees awarded throughout UCF history, Dr. Hitt has awarded 241,908 of them. That is 81 percent of all degrees earned.

“I’m proud that more students are applying, staying and finishing their degree than at any time in the history of UCF,” Dr. Hitt said.

Through his hard work and dedication to the student population, Dr. Hitt has succeeded in his goals and has paved the way for the University of Central Florida to be one of America’s leading metropolitan universities.

Florida has recognized the efforts of the university by naming UCF the 2016 best-performing university in the state system for the second time in four years.

Not only has Dr. Hitt been ranked No. 1 on Orlando Magazine’s list of Orlando’s 50 Most Powerful People twice, he has earned the Orlando Sentinel’s Central Floridian of the Year award and was recognized by Washington Monthly as one of the ten most innovative college presidents in the nation.

In a celebration event held Wednesday, Dr. Hitt was joined by his wife Martha as the UCF community, faculty and pillars of the Central Florida community expressed their gratitude for his 25 years of service.

“John’s vision, integrity and willingness to work with other institutions both public and private have made UCF a key participant in our community’s development,” Chairman of the UCF Board of Trustees Marcus Marchena said.

Speakers at the event included SGA president Christopher Clemente, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer who presented Dr. Hitt with multiple proclamations noting the president’s many accolades over the years.

“I can absolutely say that without UCF and Dr. Hitt’s 25 years of leadership, Orlando, Orange County, Central Florida, would not be one of the nation’s fastest growing regions as it is today,” Dyer said.

In honor of the incredible milestone, Dyer proclaimed March 1, 2017, President John C. and Mrs. Martha Hitt day in the city of Orlando. A proclamation that also included a key to the city.

In his time as president, Dr. John C. Hitt has made the University of Central Florida immeasurably richer and has made a lasting impact on the Central Florida community.

In his inaugural address 25 years ago, Dr. Hitt said, “With your help and support, we will move forward together — in partnership — to write the next chapter in the saga of a university destined for greatness.”

Originally published March 3, 2017