The Budget, McRaven, SXSW & Rick Perry
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has encouraged his chamber’s budget writer to dip into the so-called “Rainy Day Fund” to address the state’s budget challenges. This week House Appropriations Chair Rep. John Zerwas filed House Bill 2 that would access $1.4 billion from the fund. “I believe this is a better option than leaving $12 billion sitting in the bank while making deep cuts to higher education and significantly increasing health care premiums on retired teachers,” said Straus. “Our approach keeps spending low but also recognizes some very important priorities and some very real obligations.”
In other budget news this week, Gov. Abbott’s “signature higher education project, which aims to lure top researchers to Texas universities, is at risk of being defunded by the Legislature.” The Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI), for which Abbott had requested $40 million, was not funded in either the House or Senate budgets. The initial round of funds to launch the program came from the closure of Gov. Perry’s “Emerging Technology Fund” and was used to hire 11 top faculty to our state’s institutions. Abbott is fighting for the funding, and will host a reception at the Governor’s mansion this week to feature some of the researchers GURI has attracted.
This week, UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven announced an end to plans to expand the System into Houston. The land purchase had been the subject of much consternation from the Houston delegation of the Texas Legislature, and had become a distraction from other priorities the System and its campuses were focused on this Session. In a letter to McRaven, Board Chairman Paul Foster said of the move, “Your actions as a strong servant leader to direct full attention to helping each of our presidents succeed, and your willingness to recalibrate and adjust priorities, are very much appreciated.”
From March 10-19, tens of thousands of people will descend on Austin for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festival. Our state’s flagship institutions will bring their best and brightest to the interactive showcase to participate in what has become one of the world’s top venues for breakthrough innovation and technology. UT at SXSW will feature two days of panels, parties and exhibitions that will highlight the research, innovation and thought leadership of UT's faculty, students and programs. Texas A&M is joining SXSW for the first time and will host Texas A&M House to showcase art, science and technology from the school’s leading minds.
This week the Senate voted to confirm former Texas Governor Rick Perry as the U.S. Secretary of Energy. The Department has an important role to play in doling out federal R&D dollars, which could benefit Texas institutions if Perry were to steer projects toward his home state. The Department “runs the national laboratories, sets appliance standards, hands out loans and grants for basic research and early stage energy technologies from carbon capture and storage to battery technology” according to a Washington Post story on the confirmation.
Week of March 5, 2017
Apples and Oranges
Texas A&M is expanding into Houston with a recent purchase of an “18-story office building for a specialized engineering medicine program in collaboration” with Houston Methodist Hospital, according to the Houston Chronicle. The program, called “EnMed,” aims to attract 50 medical students annually with dual degrees in engineering and medicine, starting in July 2019. “The program expects to field requests from Texas Medical Center doctors who need engineers to create devices that will improve health care delivery, such as a pacifier that measures babies' dehydration. The goal will be for every graduate to invent an innovative device during the program. The announcement raised some eyebrows after a UT System expansion into Houston was shut down by lawmakers. State Sen. John Whitmire, a vocal opponent of the UT expansion, said the two land deals were "apples and oranges."Continue reading
At an event in Killeen this week the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board unveiled progress toward the states’ 60x30TX plan, which “aims to ensure 60 percent of adults, ages 25 to 34, will earn a college certificate or degree by 2030.” The number of Texans with degrees or certificates currently is just under 40 percent. Increasing this number is critical to the state’s future as some “estimates have shown that 65 percent of all new jobs by the year 2020 will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school.”Continue reading