A Momentum Changer

The Texas Senate unanimously approved three new regents on Tuesday of last week. Janiece Longoria, Rad Weaver and Kevin Eltife were confirmed and sworn-in ahead of their first board meeting in Austin on Wednesday. Their appointments bring to a close what has been, at times, a tumultuous period for the Board, most notably because of the ongoing battles – legal and otherwise – brought on by outgoing regent Wallace Hall. The terms of regents Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich also came to an end this week.
 
Texas institutions are “scrambling” to comply with a hiring freeze ordered by Gov. Abbott. While there is some question as to whether or not the governor has the legal authority to issue the freeze, the institutions are working with the Governor’s office to obtain waivers for “critical positions” as needed. Both Texas A&M and UT Austin have expressed concern over the ability to hire in time for summer courses and camps. “… If we don’t get a waiver, we are studying whether or not we can offer summer classes. Many of those classes are critical for students to be able to graduate on time,” said Laylan Copelin, Texas A&M System spokesman.
 
In a roundup of higher education budget cuts around the country the Wall Street Journal this week highlighted how the budget proposal in the Texas Senate would impact smaller schools around the state. “Texas A&M University-Kingsville, which has grown quickly in recent years and now has about 9,300 students, gets about one-third of its total operating budget from state sources and it is facing a 37% cut in state appropriations—about $26 million—over the next biennium, according to President Steven Tallant.” If the Senate budget were to pass, Talent added, “It is absolutely a momentum-changer.”
 
This week The University of Texas System and the Texas Association of Community Colleges convened a “first-of-its-kind” collaboration called the Texas Dual Credit Task Force. “Dual credit programs have experienced remarkable growth in recent years. We want to ensure that students have access to effective, high-quality dual credit programs that equip them with the knowledge and skills to complete certificates, associate degrees and baccalaureate degrees,” said Wanda Mercer, UT System Associate Vice Chancellor for student Affairs. “At the end of the day, we want graduates from all Texas institutions to strengthen the state’s workforce with their skills.”
 
The Legislature is also looking closely at the community college to university pipeline. Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson has asked Sen. Royce West to spearhead a working group on the issue. Lawmakers have expressed frustration with an estimated $60 million that students spend on community college credits that do not transfer to universities. “I am tired of answering these questions from parents of 'Why can’t this transfer' and 'Why can’t that transfer,'” West told the Texas Tribune. “And I know I am not the only one.”

Week of February 12, 2017

Latest Updates

  • '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.”

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  • 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.

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