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Huston-Tillotson University president to step down, retire after seven years

Huston-Tillotson University president Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette will retire in June 2022 after seven years with the school. (Colette Pierce Burnette/Facebook)

Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, Huston-Tillotson University's first female CEO who oversaw the school's COVID response and helped grow its endowment by 55%, has announced that she will retire on June 30, 2022.


Burnette has been president of the private university since 2015. She is the first woman to have led the university since the merger of Tillotson and Samuel Huston Colleges in 1875, which created Huston-Tillotson as the first institute of higher learning in Austin.

In a letter, Burnette credited the "genius generation" and the university's faculty and staff for teaching her more than she taught them during her seven years of leadership.


“I am eternally grateful and humbled by the grace, love, commitment, encouragement and willingness to embrace change and innovation you gave me during my tenure," Burnette said.

In her tenure, Burnette helped expand the university's endowment and STEM programs, oversaw her "passion project" to partner with Apple and create the African American Male Teacher Initiative, and partnered with Tesla in their manufacturing engineering curriculum. HT also started both a Master of Business Administration program for working professionals and opened the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center in East Austin in her time as president.

Burnette was also tasked with shifting the university to online learning as the pandemic began and COVID-related policies since then, including a Friday announcement encouraging all students to be vaccinated, with the ability to apply for exemptions, for the Spring semester.

As the president of Austin's sole HBCU, Burnette is a strong advocate for historically Black colleges, is the co-chair of Mayor Steve Adler's Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities and serves on the Greater Austin Area Black Chamber. Also a proponent for community engagement, Burnette is Treasurer of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas and serves on local boards and committees including the Austin Community Foundation, Austin UrbanLeague, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas Advisory Council, Urban Roots Advisory Council and Waterloo Greenway Board.

Burnette said she hopes to see the university continue to be "securely pointing in a positive direction" in her absence.

"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 to continue transforming the lives of thousands of students and their families as they steadfastly persist toward the great equalizer—their education–earning their degree," Burnette said. "I look forward to seeing Huston-Tillotson University continue to prosper."

The university will soon begin a national search to find its next president after Burnette steps down next summer.

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