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

  • Dramatic Changes

    With higher education facing financial and public opinion headwinds, Rice University took a proactive step this week by unveiling a seven-point plan to demonstrate its value to the public. According to the university, the plan is partially in response to “dramatic changes” in higher education. According to the Houston Chronicle, “Rice University plans to double research funding, work more closely with Houston and make undergraduate education more affordable for middle-class students in its next decade, a recognition that even the city's most prestigious campus must show its worth in a cultural climate skeptical of higher education.”

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  • "You can’t legislate morality or civility"

    “No one should be shouted down … We need to put an end to that. But you can’t legislate morality or civility — I get that,” said Sen. Joan Huffman during a State Affairs Committee hearing on campus free speech issues last week. In the wake of a series of incidents on college campuses nationally, and here in Texas, where conservative speakers had been dis-invited or shouted down because of their political views, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tasked the panel with coming up with solutions to “protect First Amendment rights and enhance the free speech environment on campus.” The panel was co-hosted by Texas State University and held in San Marcos. “Senators seemed to agree that no one has the right not to be offended,” according to the Austin American-Statesman account. Read more here on free speech conflicts on Texas campuses in 2017.

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