On The Higher Ed Horizon

“University leaders began this year [2017] expecting a bruising Texas legislative session, but they came out mostly unscathed. In many ways, the year will be remembered more for what happened on campus — not in the Capitol,” according to a roundup of higher ed news by the Texas Tribune. Funding, culture wars, tuition, #MeToo and Hurricane Harvey were just a few of the top stories that dominated headlines in 2017. With one week of 2018 under our belt, we’re already seeing a little more of the same – campus issues dominating higher ed headlines.

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McRaven Steps Down

On Friday, UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven announced he was stepping down from his post in May 2018. He cited his health as a key factor in the decision, while also noting his desire to spend time with his family. He has been previously diagnosed with Leukemia. “While I'm on the road to recovery and am grateful to my UT physicians and the good wishes and prayers of our many friends and colleagues, I believe it is time to segue to several other passions in my life,” he said in a statement. UT Austin President Greg Fenves issued a statement in response to the news, saying: “From the day he became chancellor, Bill McRaven has been focused on the impact of The University of Texas System in the state and beyond. We owe him our deepest thanks for his service and dedication, especially to the flagship campus of The University of Texas System.” Speaker Joe Straus said, “Bill McRaven has provided strong, visionary leadership for the UT System.” The full statement from the Board of Regents can be read here.

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Fair and Just

Following both House and Senate passage of the tax bill, the Houston Chronicle took a look at the wide range of issues in that bill and other policy moves in Washington that could impact higher education in Texas. “Behind-the-scenes fights are brewing over issues ranging from taxing university endowments and graduate student tuition waivers to eliminating interest subsidies on student loans …” Last week graduate students across Texas have protested the proposed taxation of their tuition subsidies, while university leaders worked the phones behind the scenes to air their concerns with members of the Texas Congressional delegation. “These efforts may be moving the needle for lawmakers. A letter from Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Dallas) and dozens of other lawmakers to House leadership said taxing graduate tuition waivers would be ‘unfair’ and inhibit economic growth.”

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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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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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