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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The Sky is Falling

It was a big week for higher education in Texas.
 
On Monday, Governor Abbott announced the appointment of new regents for UT Austin, Texas A&M and Texas Tech University. The Coalition issued the following statement in support of the nominees: “We applaud Governor Abbott on the appointment of outstanding Texans for positions on the Boards of Regents of our state institutions. Those announced today are committed to ensuring excellence in higher education and will continue to push our institutions forward. We urge the Senate Committee on Nominations to move quickly to confirm these nominees so they can get to work for higher education in Texas.” Former regent Bobby Stillwell spoke to the Houston Chronicle about the appointments. “They're on the same page and seeking the same outcome,”… a contrast to the mindset of the three outgoing regents.

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Coalition Statement on Regent Nominees

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education today issued the following statement in response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s nomination of new regents to serve on the boards of The University of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech Systems:

“We applaud Governor Abbott on the appointment of outstanding Texans for positions on the Boards of Regents of our state institutions. Those announced today are committed to ensuring excellence in higher education and will continue to push our institutions forward. We urge the Senate Committee on Nominations to move quickly to confirm these nominees so they can get to work for higher education in Texas.”

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The "Great Opportunity Creator"

Kel Seliger, the Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, this week introduced a series of bills he says would curb the cost of college at Texas public institutions. The proposed legislation would repeal the tuition set-aside program, freeze tuition and fees, and implement a performance-based funding model. According to Seliger, "we will have the opportunity to implement a long-term tuition reform solution which holds institutions accountable and ensures they remain accessible and affordable." Also this week, leaders in the House and Senate released budget proposals that are $8 billion apart. The Senate budget does not change the state’s funding formula for higher education.

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Latest Updates

  • Big Government, Top 10 Percent and Tom Brady

    In a push to regain more state control of higher education, a number of bills have been introduced this Session that would limit individual institutions’ authority and give power back to The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The Texas Tribune cited a number of efforts from tuition increases to regional expansions and new programs, which have made lawmakers rethink a 2013 move that limited the powers of the Coordinating Board under the belief that individual institutions could best make decisions about their campuses. Raymund Paredes, whose office stands to regain old power and add in some new res[responsibilities if some of these bills pass, supports the moves. “We need some oversight,” he said, “and I think the coordinating board was intended to fill that role.”
     
    One of a number of higher education bills passed by the Senate this week included a revision to the top 10 percent law, which would allow all universities (not just UT Austin) to cap at 30 percent the number of students admitted under the law. This bill is a step back from earlier efforts to repeal it altogether, in what State Sen. Kel Seliger, higher ed chair and the bill’s author, said was a response to “political realities.” Some lawmakers have expressed concern that eliminating the automatic admissions policy would have an adverse impact on diversity. But Seliger has questioned if this is a proper role for the state. “Is it the role of government to run the admissions department of any university?” he said. “It’s just another example of big government.”
     
    One of the nine researchers headed to Texas as a result of the Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI) is chemical engineering professor Joan Brennecke, who UT Austin was able to recruit from Notre Dame. Brennecke specializes in researching how to make fossil fuels “greener” and will bring with her a lab, equipment, and endless possibilities for innovation and commercialization that will attract new talent and industry to Texas. “It is really amazing that [GURI] exists,” Brennecke said. “I don’t know of any other states where the state is committed to attracting top people into their academic institutions and is committed to doing that by putting their money behind what they say.” However, the Legislature has neglected to fund GURI for the next biennium, something that may change when House and Senate budget negotiators begin meeting in the coming weeks.
     
    John Sharp may be on track to be the Texas A&M System’s longest serving chancellor. His contract isn’t up until 2020, but this week regents have submitted a proposal to extend his contract through 2023. The proposal does not include a pay increase. Citing the “tough decisions” the Legislature is making about university budgets, the regents cite transparency and consistency of leadership as important for the system moving forward. Using a professional sports analogy, [Regent Charles] Schwartz said the extension is an opportunity to "lock in a high performer at the current level." "The Patriots don't get to do that with Tom Brady, and we have an opportunity to do so," Schwartz said.
     
    Both the House and Senate have introduced legislation aimed at reducing teen pregnancy by requiring state institutions of higher education to “develop and implement a strategic plan for the prevention of sexual assault and unplanned pregnancy.” The legislation is based on similar efforts in Mississippi and Arkansas, which rank number one and three respectively, when it comes to teen pregnancy. Texas has the fifth highest rate of teen pregnancy nationally, a statistic, which has long term impacts on our economy. “If we want an educated workforce in Texas, students have to stay in school to get an education. And the reality is that the burden of being a teen parent makes that nearly impossible.”

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  • “Eating Your Seed Corn”

    Ahead of conference committees to hammer out differences between the House and Senate budgets, Columnists and editorial writers around the state have been lambasting the deep cuts to higher education proposed in the Senate version. Chris Tomlinson of the Houston Chronicle wrote, “The technical term is ‘eating your seed corn.’ That's what Texas state senators proposed when they voted to gut public universities, drive away talented scientists and stunt the future workforce …” The San Antonio Express-News wrote, “Higher education is an investment with the potential for tremendous returns for students and the state. It’s a false calculation to think reducing higher education funding is in the best interest of a state looking to grow its economy.”

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