Texas Private Universities Earn Reputations for Research

Private universities in Texas such as Rice University, Trinity University and Southern Methodist University, are making strong advances in research.

Bill Lewis
On Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 12:40
Its public university systems are the envy of the nation, but Texas can also lay claim to some of the country's best private higher education institutions, which have established reputations that extend far beyond state boundaries and the United States. Rice University in Houston was named among the top 25 Best Colleges in America by Forbes magazine in 2011. And Rice, along with Baylor University in Waco, Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Trinity University in San Antonio were named by Kiplinger's magazine on its list of Best Values in Private Colleges in fall 2011. While their enrollment may not be as large as some of their public university counterparts, their academic programs and research initiatives are no less impressive.   Rice University, with an enrollment of about 6,200, is currently involved in one of the most intense nanotechnology efforts in the nation, with students and faculty working on engineering projects to design low-cost solutions for medical treatments. One of the projects, known as Lab-on-a-chip, is developing technology that will allow blood or saliva to be analyzed instantaneously instead of having to wait for lab results. A key goal with Lab-on-a-chip is to have it be low cost, and perhaps eventually become a home device so people can quickly diagnose their own ailments. “We are one of the top nanotechnology research universities in America, even the world,” says David Leebron, president of Rice University. “We just opened a National Space Biomedical Research Institute, working on highly portable medical diagnostic devices that are important in sending astronauts into space. However, research there will also ultimately help to change many aspects of health care in the United States, to hopefully reduce costs.” Leebron says Rice is able to attract top researchers in part because the university's 300-acre campus is close to major companies based in Houston, the fifth-largest metro area in the country. Many of the companies are in growth industries, including energy technology and life sciences. “We are a small research university at 6,000 students, but we make an impact beyond our size," he says. "Our medical and energy research will hopefully lead to solutions for solving some of the problems facing Houston, Texas and America.” Best Values List Southern Methodist University is one of 96 universities classified as High Research Activity Institutions by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching "One of our many interesting current projects is developing artificial limbs that 'feel', which involves the development of two-way, fiber-optic communication between the human brain and artificial limbs," says Kent Best, SMU executive director of news and communications. The university, with an enrollment of about 11,000, drew more than  $25.6 million in external funding for research and sponsored projects in the 2009-10 academic year. Its researchers have advanced understanding and treatment for a number of diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, diabetes, childhood obesity and African sleeping sickness.   Productive Collisions   Trinity University, with 2,600 students, offers 41 academic majors and five master's programs. The university is bolstering its research efforts with construction of a new Center for the Sciences and Innovation. “The center will be a 280,000-square-foot complex of glass walls that will demystify the sciences, and draw students into science," says Sharon Jones Schweitzer, Trinity University assistant vice president for communications. "We opened one wing of the new building in January 2012, and the remainder is under construction and will open in 2014.” Schweitzer says the center allows different science departments to be near one another, which encourages collaboration between researchers. “For example, neuroscience research can involve psychology and biology professors working together, and the same goes with chemistry and biochemistry,” she says. “This facility will bring about many productive collusions, not only with our students doing research projects, but also with our research faculty members.”


Bill Lewis is an award-winning business journalist whose work has appeared in publications across the United States.