Chancellors, Commissioners, Legislative Staff, Administrators, and Faculty Senators converged on the UT Austin campus on Monday, March 4, 2019 to discuss Texas Higher Education issues. This annual event of the Texas A&M and UT Austin Faculty Senates was organized, hosted, and emceed by Prof. Brian L. Evans, Chair-Elect of the UT Austin Faculty Council. Prof. Evans was joined by co-host Prof. Andrew Klein, his counterpart on the Texas A&M Faculty Senate. UT Austin President Fenves and Provost McInnis welcomed the audience and stressed the importance of faculty governance in higher education for the benefit of students, staff, and faculty. Dean Blanca Kupiani from Texas A&M echoed the theme.
Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp spoke of the need to restore full State formula funding to support education at all institutions of higher education in order to reflect enrollment increases and inflation, and to restore the Texas Research University Fund, which supports UT Austin and Texas A&M, to its original rate of $1.18M per $10M in research expenditures. Chancellor Sharp mentioned that Texas A&M University is requesting additional legislative funding to offset the cost of $22M per year that it grants in tuition waivers for military veterans and their dependents.
UT System Chancellor John Milliken, who started his job less than six months ago, spoke of the Texas ethos of confidence and optimism. He observed that Texas has the second highest and third youngest population among the 50 states. The expectation that the population of Texas will double by 2050 will likely not mean a doubling of the number of UT and A&M campuses. The potential impact of higher education in Texas is enormous, and increasing educational opportunities is a major challenge.
Commissioner Raymund Parades and Assistant Commissioner Rex Peebles of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) talked about the demographic challenges of the state population doubling by 2050 and the large and growing percentage of K-12 students who are economically disadvantaged and who will be seeking higher education opportunities. THECB Commissioners mentioned the 60x30 goal: having 60% of 25-34 year olds with a post-secondary certification or degree by 2030. Currently, it’s at 42%. The Commissioners also discussed changes in the Fields of Study to facilitate students transferring from Texas institutions of higher education to Texas four-year universities. The subject triggered an intense discussion with faculty who are concerned that students who transfer from community colleges to institutions like UT Austin and Texas A&M College Station may be unprepared for upper-division course work.
The event also featured views on pending legislation from the State Legislature given by Mr. Jacob Cottingham, Chief of Staff for State Representative Donna Howard (D), and by Mr. Joel Resendez, Staff for State Senator Brandon Creighton (R) and Director of the Senate Higher Education Committee. In 2011, higher education in Texas suffered substantial legislative budget cuts to base funding levels and these cuts have not been fully restored as the state’s economy has been recovering. Mr. Cottingham mentioned several priorities in the House Higher Education Committee, such as college affordability, campus freedom, and 60x30 goals. He also mentioned that Higher Education is a priority for Gov. Abbot, as evidenced by his GURI initiative to recruit Nobel Laureate and Members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.