A Perfect Storm

Last week the Senate passed its budget and the House continued negotiations on its version. The picture, at least as far as the Senate version is concerned, is bleak for higher education. Calling it a “perfect storm,” the Texas Tribune noted the “top three sources of revenue for Texas public universities are all being targeted for reductions or freezes by federal or state government leaders.” House Speaker Joe Straus has acknowledged the Senate cuts are too deep saying they would “have a pretty severe impact on higher education.” The House budget, which taps $2.5 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to avoid draconian cuts to higher education, will be voted on later this week. Outside interest groups are threatening lawmakers who support using the fund.
 
In an op-ed that appeared on editorial pages around the state, UT Austin President Greg Fenves highlighted how improving graduation rates can reduce student debt. “The effectiveness of a university should be measured by the number of students it lifts up and supports. To be a great university in 2017, an institution must support opportunities for all of the students it admits from day one and strive for 100 percent graduation.” Through a series of programs and a renewed focus on supporting student success, UT’s four year graduation rate went from 50.6 percent in 2011 to 60.9 percent in 2016 with a goal of reaching 70 percent for the class of 2017.
 
In a letter to the editor of the Houston Chronicle, former UT System board of regents chairman Charles Miller criticized efforts in the legislature to eliminate special items from the budget (the Senate eliminated special items for higher education). He writes, “The current approach of whacking away at such invaluable programs is a disastrous way to fund higher education. This shameful way of allocating resources has a hint of antagonism to higher education and comes across as punitive. Someone in leadership needs to show up and change this course of destructive behavior.”
 
Texas A&M this week announced a program called Pioneers Scholars, which will award up to $5,000 per year for students enrolling in its Higher Education Center in McAllen. Students have to be admitted, accept the offer to participate in the inaugural class and “remain in good standing, academically and behaviorally.” The scholarships are available for up to four years.
 
KXAN, the NBC affiliate in Austin, produced a short documentary this week that looks at the current state of higher education tuition in Texas. The piece looks back at tuition deregulation and to the present debate over re-regulation and whether lawmakers or the universities can best set tuition to meet the institutions’ needs.

Week of April 2, 2017

Latest Updates

  • "Break a few molds"

    It’s graduation season for many institutions of higher education across the state. Here’s a look at some of the highlights from recent commencements. Texas A&M commissioned 138 Corps of Cadets members – the most from a graduating class in three decades – as Army officers at its commencement this year. UT Austin Distinguished Alum and Director of the Defense Health Agency, Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, M.D. led her alma mater’s commencement telling graduates “it is okay to break a few molds.” Jason Jenkins, a Texas Tech Outstanding Alumni winner and Senior Vice President of Communications and Community Affairs for the Miami Dolphins, encouraged Tech graduates to effect change in the “changing political and social climates” they are about to enter. The University of Houston released this video with highlights of its commencement featuring Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who admonished students to “live their life in such a way that whatever you receive from this university, your parents, from others, that you find a way to share it with someone else.”

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  • “Curiosity is an indicator of the quality of a civilization”

    The Academy of Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) recently released a video that highlights the state’s role as a research and innovation powerhouse and explains more about the organization, which was founded in 2004. “TAMEST is the single most important organization to drive research in the state of Texas,” Chancellor McRaven says in the video. “It’s an intellectual engine for the state of Texas,” says Dr. Peter J. Hotez from the Baylor College of Medicine. “Curiosity is an indicator of the quality of a civilization,” said Dr. Bonnie J. Dunbar, former astronaut and professor at Texas A&M University. “Discovery is about answering specific questions, but also improving our quality of life.”

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