The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s “seven breakthrough solutions” have been answered in countless ways since their initial unveiling: the University of Texas System released data on faculty productivity, Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl issued a detailed retort, and most recently, Liberal Arts Associate Dean Marc Musick has given UT faculty high marks in his numbers-based report.
Regardless of their varied conclusions, I am troubled by this quest to win the numbers race at the cost of excluding student success from the discourse.
In fact, graduation rates have so far been the only metric used to include students in the discussion at all. This sentiment was reiterated to me when I was asked to meet with a regent and the controversial, since-removed “special adviser” to the Board.
I had expected to share with them my own student-focused approach to higher education reform on behalf of the UT student government’s “Invest in Texas” platform. I urged them to help us keep UT safe, affordable, and competitive. I was baffled when my points were brushed aside by decidedly “seven solutions”-esque rhetoric.
It has come to this—the absolutely counterintuitive notion that students must convince legislators and the powers-that-be that the quality of our degrees matters.
Our learning and achievements have been reduced to numbers like graduation rates and professor research revenue.
But, simply stated, we are unquantifiable.
When I testified before the Senate Finance Committee last session, I told them I knew students who were becoming some of Texas’s most prominent writers, who were using their McCombs education to enhance the Texas business world, who were going to work in some of our state’s most cutting-edge laboratories, and who were even going on to work in the committee members’ offices.
In short, I told them I knew students who exemplify our motto of “What Starts Here Changes the World.”
So what chart can explain the impact we make once we’ve left the Forty Acres? The number of professional schools we attend? The companies we work for? I’m not sure anyone could have predicted that a journalism major on a track scholarship would graduate in 1977 and go on to lead the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.
It seems that many have forgotten one of UT’s most exceptional qualities: its students. I can assure you, however, that the students have not forgotten that they are getting the short end of this stick.
Muneezeh Kabir is a former UT student body vice president. Photo by Corey Leamon.
The Texas Paradox
“We’re getting better, but we’re not getting better fast enough.” That’s how Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes summed up the state of higher education attainment in Texas at his annual address. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Paredes told the audience that “we won’t come anywhere close to achieving the goals of 60 by 30” based on where we are right now. Our fastest growing population is segment – young Hispanics – are the key to future economic success, according to Paredes, but are also our “least well educated.” He called it the “Texas paradox of the moment.” Among his proposed solutions were outcomes-based funding, which would link funding to graduation rates, as well as expanded academic advising and “competency-based courses that let students progress at their own pace and adopt other innovations.”Continue reading
"Always forward, ever onward."
A Washington Post piece with the provocative headline, “Elitists, Crybabies and Junky Degrees” this week highlighted a growing political divide over higher education in America. The piece attempts to explain “rising conservative anger at American universities” and their concerted efforts to under- or de-fund institutions. The push appears to be working. “To the alarm of many educators, nearly every state has cut funding to public colleges and universities since the 2008 financial crisis. Adjusted for inflation, states spent $5.7 billion less on public higher education last year than in 2008, even though they were educating more than 800,000 additional students …”Continue reading