2015 Archives

Politics, lack of funding hamper Texas universities’ climb to top tier


The following is from the Jan. 27, 2015, edition of The Midland Reporter-Telegram. SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.

February 3, 2015

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
Austin American-Statesman

LUBBOCK -- Texas Tech University has a lot going for it, including an endowment that has grown to more than $500 million, a wide range of graduate programs that collectively award 260 Ph.Ds a year and a leafy campus with red-tile roofs, ornate columns and quiet courtyards inspired by Spanish Renaissance architecture.

The university aspires to become a major national research institution, akin to the University of Texas and Texas A&M University. So do seven other public universities in the state: UT-Dallas, UT-Arlington, UT-El Paso, UT-San Antonio, Texas State University, the University of Houston and the University of North Texas.

But a patchwork funding system cobbled together in recent years by lawmakers hoping to boost the emerging research universities doesn’t come close to providing the steady infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars it would take to lift even a couple of them into the big leagues within the next 10 or 20 years, higher education leaders say. One telling example: Lawmakers passed a measure encouraging schools to raise private donations that would be eligible for matching state grants, but then shorted them by $122.6 million, an American-Statesman analysis shows.

Bottom line: The state’s efforts are likely to lift all eight educational boats somewhat, but none enough to qualify as true flagships. . . 

Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said the state’s elected leaders have not thought seriously about creating more top-tier schools for decades. The unwillingness to concentrate funding on two or three schools is “classic legislative regionalism,” he said, adding that picking winners would require at a minimum the combined political muscle of the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker.

“Much of Texas politics is rhetorical, with little reference to the real world and the kinds of investments it takes to move an educational system,” Jillson said. “The goal of moving Texas’ universities to a top 10 status is grand, but the investment is very modest.”

Read the full story.

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