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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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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Latest Updates

  • “A clever political move”

    Calling it “a clever political move,” the San Antonio Express-News editorial board criticized state lawmakers for turning tuition-setting authority to regents, saying Texas parents have lawmakers to thank for higher tuition bills this fall. “State lawmakers know they can shortchange higher education because the university boards will feel obligated to make up the difference with tuition. An added bonus of the arrangement is that it allows the regents, appointees of the governor, to take the heat off elected officials, who can claim no direct involvement in the rising cost of a college education. But, in truth, cutting state funding for higher education directly causes tuition increases. Denial is a sham, and pointing fingers at regents is an evasion of responsibility.”

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  • Implosion

    A longhorn and leading former member of the Trump Administration is being considered to head The University of Texas System, according to media reports. Rex Tillerson, who was ousted as Secretary of State just two weeks ago, is “open” to the idea of becoming the next UT System Chancellor per a Wall Street Journal report. Tillerson gave a farewell address at the State Department this week and his final official day on the job is March 31. Chancellor Bill McRaven will step down as Chancellor in May. “Rex is a solid citizen, very ethical, straightforward, and straight talking,” said ExxonMobil general counsel Charles Matthews to Texas Monthly. “He brings great integrity to whatever he does, and if he were chosen he would be a very, very solid choice.”

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