"Vigorous Debate and Peaceful Dissent"

The Special Session of the Texas Legislature “ground to a halt” this week a day earlier than expected. Referring to the session as “30 days of discontent,” an article in The Economist recapped the session in which only a handful of the governor’s 20 priorities for the session were passed. One State Representative, Republican Chris Paddie, characterized it this way: “The problem continues to be that politics rather than policy is driving the bus.” With the session wrapped up, members are back on the campaign trail, raising money and stumping for the 2018 election.

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"A workhorse for our nation’s scientists and engineers"

Saying it was “among our biggest challenges,” this week Texas A&M President Michael K. Young indicated that lowering the faculty-to-student ratio was a top priority. While the institution has experienced tremendous growth in its student body, hiring of faculty has not kept pace. Last fall, Texas A&M’s ratio was 23-to-1. “As a comparison, Young noted the University of Texas had an 18-to-1 ratio -- 23 percent better than A&M -- and the University of Michigan has a 12-to-1 ratio -- 92 percent better than A&M.” Young told The Eagle, “We would like to improve that [ratio] as quickly as we can, but it does take time to hire quality faculty, [and] it is also a tremendous financial challenge.”

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Minors, Guns & Affirmative Action

Race in college admissions was in the headlines again this week when the Justice Department announced it was “preparing to investigate and sue colleges over their affirmative action policies.” UT Austin is “likely well-shielded” from any changes to its admissions policies, since a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2016 approved of The University’s approach. And, though, most institutions in Texas don’t use affirmative action, those that do employ it may face scrutiny. “Officials at Texas State University and Texas A&M University, for example, said such factors play no role in admissions decisions. However, some schools — notably UT and A&M — go to considerable lengths to recruit applicants from heavily minority areas in Dallas, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of the state.”

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Civil and Productive Discourse

While the “massive state funding cuts Texas higher education officials dreaded never materialized” during the legislative session, institutions of higher education have been busy further tightening belts and cutting budgets in anticipation of changes to funding in the future. According to a rundown by the Texas Tribune, Renu Khator has asked U of H academic departments to cut 2.5 percent from their budgets. “University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves ordered a $20 million spending cut, which amounts to a 2 percent reduction. Texas A&M University administrators are sticking with a planned 1.5 percent cut, while Texas Tech University departments were told to trim 1 percent from their budgets.”

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The Power of Higher Ed

A weekend Houston Chronicle editorial highlighted the “Power of higher ed” noting that many Texans rely on the innovations and graduates of institutions of higher education – often without realizing it. “Too often taxpayers don't connect the dots between the valuable work universities and colleges perform and its impact on our daily lives. It's worth reminding voters that if you go to a veterinarian in Texas, chances are she earned a degree from Texas A&M University. If you have certain types of cancer you have renewed hope thanks to the pioneering work done at University of Texas' MD Anderson Cancer Center. If you send your child to a public school in Houston, his teacher is likely to have graduated from University of Houston or Texas Southern University.” These important reminders about how higher education impacts lives well beyond those obtaining a degree are worth noting – and promoting – particularly when some policymakers question the value of public funding of higher education.

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Latest Updates

  • 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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