"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
"A workhorse for our nation’s scientists and engineers"
Saying it was “among our biggest challenges,” this week Texas A&M President Michael K. Young indicated that lowering the faculty-to-student ratio was a top priority. While the institution has experienced tremendous growth in its student body, hiring of faculty has not kept pace. Last fall, Texas A&M’s ratio was 23-to-1. “As a comparison, Young noted the University of Texas had an 18-to-1 ratio -- 23 percent better than A&M -- and the University of Michigan has a 12-to-1 ratio -- 92 percent better than A&M.” Young told The Eagle, “We would like to improve that [ratio] as quickly as we can, but it does take time to hire quality faculty, [and] it is also a tremendous financial challenge.”Continue reading
Minors, Guns & Affirmative Action
Race in college admissions was in the headlines again this week when the Justice Department announced it was “preparing to investigate and sue colleges over their affirmative action policies.” UT Austin is “likely well-shielded” from any changes to its admissions policies, since a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2016 approved of The University’s approach. And, though, most institutions in Texas don’t use affirmative action, those that do employ it may face scrutiny. “Officials at Texas State University and Texas A&M University, for example, said such factors play no role in admissions decisions. However, some schools — notably UT and A&M — go to considerable lengths to recruit applicants from heavily minority areas in Dallas, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of the state.”Continue reading