Unsustainable

West Texas A&M University this week received the “largest, most generous gift the school has ever received.” The Paul Engler and the Paul F. and Virginia J. Engler Foundation have agreed to donate at least $1 million annually for the next 80 years for naming rights to two colleges: the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences and the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business. In highlighting the gift, System Chancellor John Sharp said, “A truly inspiring individual, Paul's drive and entrepreneurial spirit transformed the cattle industry. It is a tremendous honor for our university to become part of his legacy.”

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The Next Spindletop?

A recent national survey found that international student enrollment is declining in the U.S. This echoes an earlier study by the Houston Chronicle, which found sharp drops in international enrollment at Texas institutions this fall. In fact, “applications to Texas' four-year public universities plummeted year over year by at least 10,000.” Among the contributing factors, according to the study, were the “social and political climate” in the U.S., as well as visa delays and cost. As reporter Lindsay Ellis noted, “International students pay way more money to attend state schools, boosting campus budgets amid uncertain state appropriations.”

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Tax Cuts, Med Schools & Trump Appoints a Texan

The tax plan unveiled in the U.S. House of Representatives this week includes a number of proposed changes to education tax credits, deductions and benefits that would impact Texans – and especially private universities in Texas with high-dollar endowments. According to a Dallas Morning News review, “schools like SMU in University Park, Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and Rice University in Houston — all with endowments of $1 billion or more — would feel a direct impact.” The schools would be subject to a 1.4 percent excise tax on their net investment income. “In 2014 alone, that trio [of private schools in Texas] would have taken a combined $6.8 million hit.” For students and families, the plan would impact tax credits associated with student loan repayments and would also fold three existing higher-education tax credits into one. The Washington Post published a detailed analysis of the key provisions impacting higher education.

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"My next goal as governor is to reunite the Texas-Texas A&M football rivalry."

A poll released last week showed that “many Texans see merits to earning a college degree or certificate, believing that higher education has the potential to improve future salaries and quality of life.” This is a welcome finding considering recent national data showing support for public higher education has been on the decline. The poll, commissioned by WGU Texas, whose parent university is Western Governors University Texas, also found that “Texans have an overall positive view of state-run colleges and universities,” yet they are concerned with the lack of state investment in higher education.

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Courting Rick Perry

To underscore Texas’ role as a leading national academic and R&D powerhouse, the Texas A&M and UT Systems will both be competing for a contract to run the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The lab is the “birthplace of the nation’s nuclear arsenal and part of the portfolio overseen by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, a graduate of A&M.” Last month the UT System Regents approved moving forward on a bid, and this week the Texas A&M Board of Regents did the same. M. Katherine Banks, A&M’s vice chancellor and dean of engineering, will lead A&M’s effort. While she said the UT System didn’t respond to A&M’s overtures for a collaboration, she acknowledged the competition could be a good thing for the state. “This could double the chances that the state of Texas is represented on the winning team.” The $2.2 billion contract expires next September after federal officials said current operators (led by the University of California) “failed to earn high enough performance reviews.”

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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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