Central Florida and its hometown university recently celebrated a major community milestone.
On June 10, the University of Central Florida marked its 50th birthday. Created by the Florida Legislature in 1963, UCF originated as Florida Technological University. The new university opened in 1968, and its name changed to UCF in 1978. In a relatively short time, UCF has emerged as one of the great success stories in higher education, becoming Florida’s largest university and the second largest in the U.S.
Even more notable is the growth in quality of UCF’s students, faculty members, and programs; the advancement of UCF as a major metropolitan research university of global impact; and the stimulus UCF provides to the regional economy. For more on UCF’s exciting journey, see the 50th anniversary tribute pages.
UCF’s 50th anniversary followed another key milestone: the 20th anniversary of John C. Hitt as president of UCF. Hitt became the university’s fourth president on March 1, 1992, and two decades of remarkable results have followed under his visionary leadership.
During his tenure, enrollment has nearly tripled to almost 60,000 students, and UCF has greatly expanded access to higher education. Typically, UCF sets new school records each year for the quality of its students, the number of transfer students it accepts from community and state colleges, and the number of degrees it awards.
In a relatively short time, UCF has emerged as one of the great success stories in higher education, becoming Florida’s largest university and the second largest in the U.S. U.S. News & World Report recently rated UCF as the nation’s No. 5 “up and coming” university, and the Carnegie Foundation designates UCF with its highest ranking as “a very high research activity" institution. Meanwhile, President Hitt’s drive to establish UCF as America’s leading partnership university has made UCF synonymous with the progress and prosperity of Central Florida and the Sunshine State.
For instance, the president’s persistence in working with state, local, and federal government officials and private businesses led to construction of the UCF College of Medicine at Lake Nona. A cluster of related facilities has resulted in a medical city that is the biggest economic boost for Central Florida since DisneyWorld. By the end of 2017, this collaborative effort is projected to generate 30,000 jobs and an annual $7.6 billion economic benefit for the region.
UCF’s rise as a leading major metropolitan research university has brought international distinction to the university and more high-tech jobs to the region. Since President Hitt’s arrival at UCF, research funding has escalated from $28.4 million to more than $100 million annually for the last nine years. UCF professors conduct research of global impact on such diseases as diabetes and cancer, and professors and students from various fields work with companies throughout Central Florida. Together, they develop new technologies and innovations that create high-paying jobs as part of the Florida High-Tech Corridor Council.
Typically, UCF sets new school records each year for the quality of its students, the number of transfer students it accepts from community and state colleges, and the number of degrees it awards. President Hitt founded the 23-county corridor council in 1996 with University of South Florida President Betty Castor. The University of Florida has since joined on, anchoring a public-private approach that has generated more than 3,200 jobs with a direct and indirect economic benefit of $1.3 billion. And UCF’s national reputation for innovation continues to grow in such areas as optics and lasers, simulation and training, video game production, and hospitality management.
During Dr. Hitt’s presidency, UCF has launched more than $1 billion in new construction. The projects include a new stadium, arena, student union center, regional campuses, student wellness center, a visitor information center, and community health clinic. Of the more than 247,000 degrees earned by students during UCF’s history, President Hitt has awarded 78 percent of them.
The president’s unique approach to tackling opportunities, challenges, and problems has taken UCF from promise to prominence – and it has earned him many accolades. Those include being twice ranked No. 1 on Orlando Magazine’s list of Orlando’s 50 Most Powerful People and earning the Orlando Sentinel’s Central Floridian of the Year award.
Prior to arriving at UCF, Dr. Hitt served as the interim president at the University of Maine. His leadership experience also includes a decade as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Bradley University in Illinois. He and his wife, Martha, whom he met at Austin College in Texas where they both attended, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2011. They have two children and two grandchildren.
The charter class of UCF's College of Medicine graduates as the first entire class in American medical school history to receive full four-year scholarships and to graduate debt free. Read more about it, and see the report from NBC's Nightly News.