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

  • The Texas Paradox

    “We’re getting better, but we’re not getting better fast enough.” That’s how Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes summed up the state of higher education attainment in Texas at his annual address. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Paredes told the audience that “we won’t come anywhere close to achieving the goals of 60 by 30” based on where we are right now. Our fastest growing population is segment – young Hispanics – are the key to future economic success, according to Paredes, but are also our “least well educated.” He called it the “Texas paradox of the moment.” Among his proposed solutions were outcomes-based funding, which would link funding to graduation rates, as well as expanded academic advising and “competency-based courses that let students progress at their own pace and adopt other innovations.”

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  • "Always forward, ever onward."

    A Washington Post piece with the provocative headline, “Elitists, Crybabies and Junky Degrees” this week highlighted a growing political divide over higher education in America. The piece attempts to explain “rising conservative anger at American universities” and their concerted efforts to under- or de-fund institutions. The push appears to be working. “To the alarm of many educators, nearly every state has cut funding to public colleges and universities since the 2008 financial crisis. Adjusted for inflation, states spent $5.7 billion less on public higher education last year than in 2008, even though they were educating more than 800,000 additional students …”

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