Mad Men

This week the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature kicked off in Austin. Check out this new interactive map to find your legislator on your next visit to the capitol, and sign up for Orange and Maroon Legislative Day on February 15th to help advocate for higher education issues impacting our state’s research institutions.

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They're Back ...

Tuesday marks the kickoff of the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature and higher education is among the many issues lawmakers will address in the coming months. (Watch video of the Texas Tribune’s Symposium previewing the Session here.) One issue already driving headlines is in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have conveyed differing views on the issue with Straus setting it up as an economic versus a political one. “There’s no debate at all that we need more and better-skilled people in our workforce,” Straus said. “I see no benefit to the state, or to the state’s future, by limiting the success of people who’ve played by the rules and have qualified for higher education and who can become successful citizens of the state of Texas and productive in our economy.”

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A gift, a loss and a "bit of a pause" ...

This week James and Miriam Mulva, and the Mulva Family Foundation donated $50 million to build a neuroscience clinic at The University of Texas Dell Medical School. The gift, which will be paid out over 10 years, could complement a proposal by state Sen. Kirk Watson, “to remake the aging Austin State Hospital into a cutting-edge site for mental illness research” and turn Austin into a center for mental health. The Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences will investigate Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder and stroke among other neurological disorders. The Mulvas also gave $25 million for cancer research at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

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On Probation

“If you want to ensure that only wealthy students and upper middle-class students can afford to go to Texas public colleges and universities in the future, do away with tuition set-asides,” said Tom Melecki, former director of financial services at UT Austin recently. Set-asides, a portion of tuition carved out to help low and middle-income students afford college, are in the news again as the Legislative agenda is rolled out ahead of the next Session. Lt. Gov Patrick has dubbed the set-asides as a “hidden tax” and vowed to get rid of them in the name of lowering college costs. However, concern has risen about whether the Legislature would actually fund an alternate method to provide aid if set-asides are eliminated. As the Rivard Report notes, “In a state like Texas, the danger is that once funds are gone, they are gone. Lawmakers in recent sessions have showed little willingness to spend budget surpluses when they have them, and all signs point to a tighter year in 2017.”

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Chilling to Academic Discourse

The first bills filed in advance of the 85th Texas Legislative Session provide a preview of the likely mood toward higher education when lawmakers convene in Austin in January. One bill getting the attention of education stakeholders wasfiled by State Sen. Charles Schwertner and calls for a cap on tuition and fees at public universities to combat rising tuition rates. It does not address the decline in state support for the institutions. Coalition Advisory Committee Member, Bobby Inman, continues to be a voice calling on lawmakers to acknowledge their role in rising college costs. He told the Statesman that the Legislature wants “to be seen politically as really helping those students who are getting in debt. I have that same great concern, but I know how it came about. It came about because of dramatically declining state funding for higher education.” For his part, Schwertner laid out his case in an editorial for the Texas Tribune.

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Latest Updates

  • A Momentum Changer

    The Texas Senate unanimously approved three new regents on Tuesday of last week. Janiece Longoria, Rad Weaver and Kevin Eltife were confirmed and sworn-in ahead of their first board meeting in Austin on Wednesday. Their appointments bring to a close what has been, at times, a tumultuous period for the Board, most notably because of the ongoing battles – legal and otherwise – brought on by outgoing regent Wallace Hall. The terms of regents Alex Cranberg and Brenda Pejovich also came to an end this week.

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  • State of the State

    In his State of the State address this week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a state hiring freeze that included institutions of higher education. As noted by the Associated Press, the move “applies only to positions supported by money appropriated by the Legislature. That might allow campuses to use tuition dollars to pay for some positions while shifting appropriated funds to other college and university expenses.” In his remarks, Abbott also called on lawmakers to fully fund his University Research Initiative, which aims to recruit talented faculty to Texas institutions.

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