A familiar face in higher-education circles will be the next chancellor at WGU Texas, the state’s online university that was launched in 2011.
Ray Martinez, who was recently serving as a governmental relations officer at Texas A&M International University and previously served in a similar role for Rice University, is scheduled to start his new position Aug. 5. He will succeed Mark Milliron, who will remain involved as a member of the WGU Texas Advisory Board. Milliron plans to expand his consulting work and take on a larger role at Civitas Learning, a higher education data analytics company he co-founded.
Martinez got his start in politics and policy work in the office of state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and went on to serve in White House under former President Bill Clinton. He was also appointed to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission by President George W. Bush. When WGU Texas was created, Martinez was serving as chief of staff and general counsel to state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who chaired the Senate Higher Education Committee at the time.
Martinez said he learned the value of education at an early age. His father, an auto mechanic, had a third-grade education and his mother had a seventh-grade education. "And yet, they were the biggest proponents of higher education that I could ever have," he said.
WGU Texas, which has more than 3,700 students, is a state-centric branch of Western Governors University, a nonprofit institution created in 1997 by governors of 19 states, including Texas. It primarily serves adult learners who require flexibility to further their education.
Milliron said that he had been eyeing Martinez as a possible leader for the institution since its inception and was excited to hand over the reins. "My greatest hope is that WGU Texas will be both a significant provider of education and a significant catalyst of education," he said.
In a statement, WGU President Robert Mendenhall said, “We’re confident this will be a smooth transition and that Ray, working with an already strong and supportive state advisory board, partner education institutions, corporate partners, and foundation supporters, will take WGU Texas to the next level in helping more working adults in the state achieve their higher education goals.”
Martinez stressed that he intends to work cooperatively, not competitively, with the state's other institutions. But first, he wants to get to know his new students. "The most important thing right off the bat," he said, "is to move around the state and get to know WGU Texas alumni and students and to help foster a sense of community."
And then there are the potential students. There are more than 3 million adults in Texas that have some college education but no degree. "I want to talk to all of them in person if I can," Martinez said.