Lunch plans changed to breakfast with Bob Mong at Overeasy in The Statler, so he and his wife, Diane, could catch an afternoon flight to visit their son. Between bites of poached eggs and whole wheat toast, Mong spoke admiringly of his son and daughter, and of his other child— the University of North Texas Dallas, the higher education institution he has led as president since July 2015.
A former longtime editor of the city’s daily paper, Mong left journalism to take the helm of UNT Dallas, with its southern Dallas campus and downtown law school. When he moved to Dallas in the summer of 1979, the region’s population was around 3.2 million. In the four decades since, Mong has seen that number more than double.
That growth extends to UNT Dallas, too. It was recently named the fastest-growing university in Texas. Over the past three years, its enrollment has spiked by 51 percent. In December 2015, UNT Dallas graduated 475; this past spring, more than 900 picked up degrees. “Growth probably could have happened 10 years ago,” Mong says, “but we are operating a lot more strategically.”
“We’ve got a big campus, and we only occupy about 10 percent of it. There’s a lot of room for us to grow.”
Mong is focused on recruiting and retaining more local students. He says approximately 90 percent of UNT Dallas’ enrollment comes from the area. “We are in the high 70s for retention now. We need to get that number into the 80s,” he says. Targeted partnerships with local school districts, community colleges, and business have been pivotal to growth.
UNT Dallas built its first residence hall in the fall of 2018. “Some friends at UTD told me, ‘Don’t wait too long to build residence halls,’” Mong says. “Growth accelerated when we started building them—and we’re just getting started. We’ve got a big campus [in southern Dallas], and we only occupy about 10 percent of it. There’s a lot of room for us to grow.”
The newest addition to the UNT Dallas campus is its downtown College of Law at 106 Harwood St., a historic building that served as Dallas City Hall from 1912 to 1978. Prior to gifting the building to the UNT System, the City of Dallas spent $14 million in bond funds to restore its exterior. UNT spent another $56 million on interior renovations. With provisional accreditation granted by the American Bar Association, UNT Dallas will see its first students begin taking classes in the new building later this month. “We are in the middle of a study to see how we can develop more classes and programs downtown,” Mong says. “But the question is, how do you expand the southern campus to downtown without cannibalizing?”
I ask him if being a president of a university is all that different from being an editor of a newspaper. After a brief pause, Mong smiles and says, “You know, three quarters of my day I have a plan for what I want to do. I have a calendar outline. But, just like being in a newsroom, I end up doing a lot of course corrections. …. If something comes up, you have to pivot your attention. You’re always asking yourself, ‘Is this more important than what I planned?’ If it is, then you do it.” Not knowing exactly what lies ahead, he says, is the fun part.
Editor’s note: The original article has been updated to include Bob Mong’s son and daughter.