The Sky is Falling
It was a big week for higher education in Texas.
On Monday, Governor Abbott announced the appointment of new regents for UT Austin, Texas A&M and Texas Tech University. The Coalition issued the following statement in support of the nominees: “We applaud Governor Abbott on the appointment of outstanding Texans for positions on the Boards of Regents of our state institutions. Those announced today are committed to ensuring excellence in higher education and will continue to push our institutions forward. We urge the Senate Committee on Nominations to move quickly to confirm these nominees so they can get to work for higher education in Texas.” Former regent Bobby Stillwell spoke to the Houston Chronicle about the appointments. “They're on the same page and seeking the same outcome,”… a contrast to the mindset of the three outgoing regents.
On Wednesday the Senate Finance Committee heard testimony on proposed budget cuts to higher education. Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp painted a grave picture of what the cuts would do for higher education broadly, and Texas A&M specifically. “I remember when I was on this committee, and I used to listen to all these people like me talking about how the sky is falling, but the sky is really going to fall if this budget passes,” Sharp said. “Higher education is a long-term investment in the economic well-being of our state, [and] more importantly it is an investment in our students and our families. Almost all of our system teaching institutions will experience some significant general revenue reductions if Senate Bill 1 was implemented in its introduced form.”
On Thursday, the Senate Nominations Committee held the first hearing on the new crop of potential regents, with the three proposed for UT Austin’s board – Kevin Eltife, Janiece Longoria and Rad Weaver – going first. “Gov. Greg Abbott’s three nominees … are likely to win easy approval from the state Senate, judging by the friendly reception they enjoyed at a confirmation hearing Thursday before the Nominations Committee. ‘I see very capable people in front of me … I am very impressed’.”
On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against UT System Regent Hall in his long feud with the System and its Chancellor, Bill McRaven. “Wallace Hall’s final days as a University of Texas System regent are ending with a defeat in the Texas Supreme Court. The court ruled Friday that Hall had no standing to sue the chancellor of the system he oversees.”
An editorial in this weekend’s Houston Chronicle focused on college costs, and how Sen. Seliger’s proposed solutions to addressing them, may not help. “ … This bill focuses on only one side of the triangle of school funding, tuition, without any acknowledgement of the Legislature's own share of responsibility for the unaffordability of Texas' colleges. … what [Lt. Gov] Patrick and Seliger aren't talking about is the fact that Texas' per-student funding for public colleges and universities has plummeted to 17 percent below 2008 levels. Texas' system of higher education needs a champion, and it needs tuition reform. These measures point to neither, and we urge lawmakers to try again.”
Week of January 29, 2017
'Robin Hood' for Higher Ed?
As budget battles in the Legislature heat up, the question of whether or not lawmakers will tap into the Rainy Day Fund continues to be a hot topic of discussion at the capitol – and on the state’s editorial pages. The Eagle this week laid out the case for why lawmakers should access the fund for public and higher education needs, saying the fund should “not be sacrosanct” … “It would be a shame to let our students suffer because of a refusal to dip into the Rainy Day Fund.”Continue reading
Read my lips: No More Bills
Friday was the last day for Texas lawmakers to file a bill this legislative session, which brought about an expected flurry of activity. One bill, filed by Rep. J.M. Lozano, would limit higher education benefits for the children of veterans, a controversial issue killed in the 2015 Session. When lawmakers passed the provision (the Hazelwood Act) to allow veterans to pass their benefits to their dependents, it predicted a $10 million price tag – a figure, it turns out, was dramatically underestimated. The cost in 2015 was $178 million and is expected to increase. The state only picks up 20% of the tab, leaving the universities to pay for the rest. Lozano’s bill would limit benefits to veterans who served four years or more, and would expire the benefit 15 years after an honorable discharge, so it would only apply to kids born while their parents were on active duty.Continue reading