The higher education pioneer created a culture of access, inclusion and achievement at UCF that empowers students to rise to their potential and improve the world.
“We encounter the greatest risks when we dream too small rather than when we dream too big.”– John C. Hitt
To John Hitt, education has the power to transform lives — and the world. UCF’s fourth president, who guided the university’s growth for 26 years to become the second largest in the nation, believes that developing the leaders of the future begins with access.
“The main factor in the United States allowing for social and economic mobility is higher education,” says Hitt. “It’s an extremely important factor in having a society that offers opportunities to people to rise to the level that their energy, their ambition and their ability will allow them to go.”
Creating these opportunities for young people is one of Hitt’s primary goals because he experienced this transformation firsthand. Growing up as the son of a printer in Texas, Hitt became the first in his family to attend college. And the experience expanded his horizons in immeasurable ways.
“My dad insisted I go to college — it was one of his personal goals for me,” he remembers of the man who passed away when Hitt was 15 years old. “There’s no question that the education I got, both at Austin College and at Tulane University, transformed my life. And I’m forever grateful for it.”
Today, thanks to Hitt’s thoughtful vision, the work of faculty and staff, and innovative programs such as DirectConnect to UCF, which guarantees admission to students who earn an associate degree from one of the university’s five partner state colleges, the university has created a culture of inclusion and excellence that produces highly qualified graduates who are driving the workforce of Central Florida and beyond.
“We’re in an international competition today for who will have the best workforce,” Hitt explains. “And there’s a clear correlation between economic development and the percentage of our working-age citizens who have undergraduate degrees or higher. We used to lead the world in that routinely. We don’t anymore, so this is something we really need to be conscious of and be working on.”
Through diverse research, community service and academic scholarship, UCF students are making important impacts on society, thanks in large part to the wide variety of programs and empowering environment on our campuses.
“I think it means a lot that we’re a large-scale institution that can offer a lot of depth as well as breadth in the quality of our programs,” Hitt says. “The more specialties you can have within reason, and the deeper the talent you can have in key areas, the easier it is to really do a great job with teaching and research and service — which are the three pillars on which we build success in higher education. It’s extremely important if we’re going to use the power of higher education to transform lives.”
About Dr. Hitt
- Houston, Texas
- Graduated cum laude from Austin College in Texas
Earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physiological psychology from Tulane
- Held academic, administrative or executive positions at Tulane University, Texas Christian University, Bradley University and the University of Maine
- Served as the fourth president of the University of Central Florida from March 1, 1992 to June 30, 2018
- America’s Ten Most Innovative College Presidents, Washington Monthly, 2015
- John Young History Maker Award, Historical Society of Central Florida, 2015
- Modeling and Simulation Hall of Fame, National Center for Simulation, 2014
- Global Vision and Education Award, Nile Foundation, 2013
- Mid-Florida Business Hall of Fame, Junior Achievement, 2013
- Consistently listed among the Orlando Sentinel’s 25 Most Powerful People in Central Florida and Orlando Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful People
- Lifetime achievement award, Seminole County, 2007
- Legacy Award, inaugural honoree, Orlando Business Journal, 2006
- Central Floridian of the Year, Orlando Sentinel, 2005