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Huston-Tillotson University President Colette Pierce Burnette will retire in June

Colette Pierce Burnette has served as President and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University since 2015. She will retire in June.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Colette Pierce Burnette has served as President and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University since 2015. She will retire in June.

Huston-Tillotson University President Colette Pierce Burnette has decided to retire this coming summer, she announced in a letter to the campus community Friday.

Burnette was named president of Austin’s only historically black university in 2015. She was the first female president of the university since the merger of Tillotson College and Samuel Huston College. Her last day is June 30.

“My greatest hopes for the University’s future are to maintain forward momentum, continue to radiate as a jewel in the violet crown of Austin and continue transforming the lives of thousands of students and their families as they steadfastly persist towards the great equalizer – their education – earning their degree,” Burnette said in the letter.

During Burnette’s time as president, the university’s endowment increased by more than 55%, the university said in a press release. The university also started a series of new degree programs under her leadership, including programs in environmental justice and STEM fields.

Burnette oversaw several other advancements, including the opening of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in East Austin, the launch of a Master of Business Administration program designed for working people, and a collaboration with Tesla on a manufacturing engineering curriculum. Burnette also helped launch the African American Male Teacher Initiative in partnership with Apple. The initiative provides students pursuing careers in education with scholarships and mentorship.

“Huston-Tillotson University (HT) has been blessed to have Dr. Burnette’s leadership for the past seven years,” Carol McDonald, chair of the university’s board of trustees, said in the press release. “Her vision and perseverance have made HT a stronger, more vibrant, and more visible institution in Austin and beyond.”

Burnette also oversaw the university’s transition to virtual learning last spring during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interview with KUT last fall, she said the university had to cut operating expenses to make up for revenue lost from closed residence halls and dining services. But, she added, operating on a tight budget isn’t unusual, as the university always works to keep tuition low for its students.

“Operating in a crisis and having to manage your budget efficiently, I've been doing that as the president since I've been here because this is how we tend to have to operate all along when it comes to providing excellence with limited resources,” she said.

Students returned to on-campus learning this fall. The university said Friday it would be requiring all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, or complete an exemption form, by Jan. 6.

McDonald said Huston-Tillotson will begin a “national search” to find a new president in the coming weeks.

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Marisa Charpentier is KUT's assistant digital editor. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.
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