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

  • 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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