Rice is a first-tier research university in the midst of a vibrant city. It is also an intimate and highly selective college located on a beautiful wooded campus. Compact in size, it has national and international reach and seeks to attract the most talented people by promoting, celebrating, and reaping the benefits of diversity. What accounts for this unusual combination of strengths? How did Rice get this way?
William Marsh Rice, an East Coast entrepreneur, chartered the Rice Institute in 1891. He saw Houston as a place of great promise and left his fortune to endow a nonsectarian coeducational institution that would be free to all students. The institute opened in 1912 under the visionary leadership of Edgar Odell Lovett, a classically trained Princeton mathematician recommended to the trustees by Woodrow Wilson, then Princeton's president. Drawing on what Lovett learned during a nine-month tour of leading academic institutions from England to Japan, he transformed Mr. Rice's vague instructions into a blueprint for an exemplary university. He envisioned an institution "of the highest grade," one that would keep "the standards up and the numbers down," that would attract talented scholars from the best European and American universities, and that would enroll promising students "without regard to social background." It would use endowment income to pay both for buildings and for the costs of educating its students. These core values-high academic standards, small size, selectivity, and affordability-have been enhanced over the succeeding century.
Until 1965, Rice charged no tuition. Through major efforts to build the school's endowment thereafter, it has been able to offer a superior education at tuition levels much lower than comparable schools. During the past several decades, the university has allowed enrollment to grow only moderately while continuing to raise academic standards and expand diversity. Rice faculty members have, since the beginning, earned national and international accolades for their research and presentations. Most notably, in 1996 two professors whose entire careers have been spent at Rice received the Nobel Prize in chemistry. In keeping with Rice's expanding horizons, in the 1990s the Board of Trustees grew larger and more pluralist. Its members contribute diversified professional experiences and significant national and global influence. This evolution parallels the growing respect Rice has attained around the world.