New UT system chancellor James Milliken discusses improving accessibility, graduate success

Savana Dunning

In his new role as chancellor, J.B. Milliken said he wants to focus on raising student accessibility to quality education in UT System universities.

“The stronger the University is, the better it does its work, the better off the state is,” Milliken said.

Milliken spoke about becoming chancellor and the future of the UT System on Friday at the Texas Tribune Festival. Milliken assumed the position of chancellor in mid September, taking the place of William McRaven, who stepped down in May. Milliken previously served as president of the University of Nebraska and chancellor of the City University of New York.

Now in charge of the eight universities and six health care institutions that constitute the UT System, Milliken said he wants to focus on creating better access to those places.

“Talent is equally distributed among classes … but opportunity is not,” Milliken said. “We must continue to have policies and practices that expand our reach, to provide that opportunity.”

When asked about access for first generation students, Milliken said the same rule applies.

"The opportunity for first-generation students to attend college changes their lives,” Milliken said. “We know this, but it also changes their family's lives. It changes the next generation's lives. It changes their communities lives."

While getting students into college is important, Milliken said quality of education and graduate success in the working world is also a priority.

Milliken said the System will focus on meeting the standards it will set itself, rather than focusing on moving up national ranks, in order to accomplish the Texas Constitution's designation for the University of Texas to be a “university of the first class.”

“We now have a number of universities of the first class,” Milliken said. “The question is how do you measure them? There are more of these rankings now than you can shake a stick at. It’s up to us to determine what we want our institutions to be.”

Part of education quality is making sure students who come out of UT System schools are prepared when they enter the job market. Milliken said students are going to move between jobs a lot after college, and the knowledge they get from school should be able to help them.

“They’re going to change careers, they're going to re-tool, and we need to make sure that we're providing the education for them … that will allow them to make that next career move,” Milliken said.

In the end, Milliken said he hopes to make Texans more confident in their higher education system.

“The most essential role we play in leadership is to work to ensure that the University of Texas System enjoys the confidence of the people of this state,” Milliken said.