"The Systematic Defunding of Higher Education"

This week the Coalition issued a statement ahead of the Texas House vote on the budget. It read, in part, “Six years ago our Coalition came together to fight back against shortsighted so-called ‘reform’ efforts that would have damaged our educational institutions, undermined our state’s academic standing, and stymied Texas’ ability to fuel life-saving innovations and discoveries. Today, some members of the Texas Legislature have proposed shortsighted budget cuts that would realize those negative effects.” We urged lawmakers to pass a budget that would “soften the budgetary blow to our state’s institutions.”
 
Texas Exes leader, Will O’Hara, also made the case for not shortchanging higher education in an interview on Capital Tonight, referring to the Senate version of the budget as a “continuation of the systematic defunding of higher education.” He continued, “they are taking a short-term view … Top tier research institutions are the engine that fuels job creation, research, discoveries; it gives our students a cutting edge education, it gives them a competitive edge in the job market, it’s the reason why all these companies have moved to Texas in the last five years … all of that is on the line.”
 
Thankfully, the House ultimately passed a budget that is “more generous” than the Senate. “The final spending plan for higher education, of course, won’t be known until the closed-door sausage-making by a conference committee of senators and representatives grinds out the finished product.” The two chambers differ on funds for the Texas Grants financial aid program, special items and the Governor’s University Research Initiative, among other items. Budget conferees will be named in the coming weeks and negotiations will begin thereafter.
 
In addition to budget cuts across the board, the Senate also voted to freeze tuition this week. The bill, however, faces an uncertain future in the House. Speaker Straus recently referred to Texas tuition as a “pretty good bargain,” noting that students are applying to schools in record numbers. “The supply and demand seems to be working,” he said. Acknowledging concerns over the negative compound effect of budget cuts and a tuition freeze, Sen. Kel Seliger, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said, “I am determined to do everything we can to keep those universities whole.”
 
This week, the top 10% rule was again the topic of debate in the Legislature. UT Austin President Fenves testified at a hearing on the bill, highlighting that while campus diversity may have increased, it may also have come from the state’s changing demographics, not just the law. “The Top 10 Percent Rule is a blunt instrument,” said UT-Austin President Greg Fenves. “Without the automatic admissions policy, he said, the university could factor in applicants’ academic interests, test scores, personal adversity and demographics for a larger proportion of its freshman class.”

Week of April 9, 2017

Latest Updates

  • 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."

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  • Record Enrollment

    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.”

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