Saying Goodbye to a Legend

This week the world lost a living legend. Dr. Denton Cooley, renowned heart surgeon, passed away at 96 years of age. A former Longhorn basketball player, Cooley went on to found the Texas Heart Institute and revolutionize “many techniques still used in cardiovascular surgery today.” “The University of Texas prepares leaders who can benefit society and improve the world — none more so than Dr. Cooley, who continued to give back throughout his life,” said UT Austin President Greg Fenves. “His legacy on campus and throughout the world will be felt for generations.”

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Are you ready for OMLD?

What should higher ed watchers expect from the Trump Administration? It’s hard to say. As the Houston Chronicle pointed out this week, President Elect Trump’s “higher education policies are sparse but have the potential to vastly change how the federal government works with colleges and universities.” One huge idea floated during the campaign was dismantling the Department of Education, which manages federal student loan programs among many other roles related to higher ed. Another idea included addressing student debt by capping interest repayment rates on student loans. Overall he’s touched on affordability and access in speeches, but offered little in the way of specifics. Stay tuned.

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The End is Near

Blessedly, this presidential election cycle will come to a close on Tuesday, but research and analysis on this and future elections will live on. Especially with the new Presidential Elections Program Rice’s Baker Institute announced this week“to give voters and campaigns deeper insight into changing trends in U.S. presidential elections.” With the program, the Institute aims to close a “prominent gap in the academic and popular understanding of U.S. presidential elections,” said Director Edward Djerejian. The Program will hold two conferences every four years, with topics ranging from campaign finance to media coverage.

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A Sober Assessment

In what was characterized as a “sober assessment,” this week Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes delivered his annual state of higher education address, highlighting “an uncertain economic and intellectual future” if the state fails to increase graduation rates, especially among Hispanics. “It’s not too much to say that how well we educate those Latino children will pretty much determine the fate of Texas in the 21st century,” he said. Paredes, who has been on the job for 12 years, noted that “of 100 Latino students in Texas who were eighth-graders in 2004, only 14 had earned a post-secondary credential six years after they should have graduated from high school. For the eighth-grade population as a whole, 20 of 100 earned a certificate or degree.”

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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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