Civil and Productive Discourse

While the “massive state funding cuts Texas higher education officials dreaded never materialized” during the legislative session, institutions of higher education have been busy further tightening belts and cutting budgets in anticipation of changes to funding in the future. According to a rundown by the Texas Tribune, Renu Khator has asked U of H academic departments to cut 2.5 percent from their budgets. “University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves ordered a $20 million spending cut, which amounts to a 2 percent reduction. Texas A&M University administrators are sticking with a planned 1.5 percent cut, while Texas Tech University departments were told to trim 1 percent from their budgets.”
In an editorial published in a number of statewide papers, UT Austin assistant vice president of research and policy, Richard J. Reddick, highlighted how recent polling by Pew showing a decline in support for higher education means we actually need universities now more than ever. “More of us need to understand that universities are learning organizations that are often at the forefront of longstanding social challenges. … Civil and productive discourse is essential to the development of critical thinking, and hopefully the solutions to problems that bedevil our society will originate when people engage, debate and analyze different perspectives.”
An in-depth Texas Monthly profile of Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp chronicled his political and professional life that led him to his current role. The article walked through the changes he’s made at A&M since taking the leadership helm including opening a law school, privatizing campus services, engaging in public-private partnerships and more recently, actively engaging the Aggie faithful in political advocacy during the Texas Legislative Session. “… Sharp and his team went to DEFCON 1. The chancellor got on the phone, working his political connections in Austin. A&M’s team of lobbyists went to work on state lawmakers. And Sharp played his trump card: A&M’s network of more than 400,000 fanatically loyal alumni …”
The Houston Chronicle noted that the state of Texas is a leader when it comes to “reverse transfers” in higher education. The practice helps ensure that students who move on from community to four-year colleges without finishing an associates’ degree, can retroactively go back and apply their four-year college credits to an associates. The National Student Clearinghouse says there are 2 million students nationwide who attended college for two years between 2003 and 2013 without earning a degree. And, “78 percent of students who transfer from a community college to a university do so without a degree.” While some communities, like El Paso, have programs in place to ensure coordination happens, the biggest hurdle to ensuring students get the reverse transfer credits they’ve earned is “limited fiscal and human resources and no mechanism for consistent communication between universities and students.”
This week the UT System Board of Regents named Taylor Eighmy as the next president of UTSA. Eighmy comes to Texas by way of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where he is a professor of civil and environmental engineering as well as the vice chancellor for research and engagement. Chairman Paul Foster said of the move, “Given UTSA’s growing reputation and continued pursuit of Tier Oneuniversity status, Eighmy is an exceptional choice to lead this remarkable institution as it strives to reach even greater heights.”

Week of July 30, 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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