Tx Rep.Dan Branch,(Dist 108) Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee said Wednesday that the real priority of the Texas House is to find the net/net sweet spot between quality classroom instruction and quality research in the Tier One universities of Texas. He said the two were not mutually exclusive. He is a supporter for the research side of university systems as he believes in the economic development it brings to the state.
A recent controversy came into play as the University of Texas Regents hired an adviser who became the target of those supporting the status quo in Texas higher education. His offense? He requested data on how student tuition dollars and taxpayer money are being spent, according to his letter of explanation to Regent Hall. This information is, by law, public record. Rick O'Donnell described it as the duty of the Regents to monitor the data and yet, in his opinion, this is when an orchestrated campaign was launched against him from the highest levels of UT Austin and the UT System.
So, this sends up a red flag on transparency issues to those outside the immediate situation. O'Donnell states in his letter to Regent Hall that some as of yet unreleased data shows a "growing number of student tuition and taxpayer dollars are being paid to professors and administrators who seem to do very little teaching", as they prefer concentrating on research.
When I asked if he thought there is a problem with transparency at the upper levels of higher education, Chairman Branch didn't sound particularly concerned about the issue. He didn't think it would hinder Governor Perry's agenda of streamlining higher education by eliminating non-essential expenditures that don't result in quality classroom instruction.
Branch pointed to HB 1000 passed in the House that funds research within Tier One universities by using incentives for better use of dollars, not simply doling out the money. He also mentioned that HCR 288 - a resolution in the House - kept tuition hikes under 4%. Texas has one of the lowest average tuition increases of all the large states.
HB 33 addresses the high cost of college textbooks. All of us with college students of our own are painfully aware of this expense. Chairman Branch strongly advocates for cutting these costs to students and the parents who foot the bills.
Branch is working on making it a priority for students in higher education to raise the completion rate towards degrees, whether it is an associate degree or four year degree. Texas is still ranked below other states in completion rates. There are currently 1.5 million students enrolled in Texas. Especially with scholarships paid for by tax dollars, there is a need to encourage students to move through the system as quickly and efficiently as possible, therefore freeing up scholarship monies for the next class of applicants.
The Texas legislature has 40 days left in their 140 day session. The size of our state government will be substantially cut for the third time since World War II. In higher education the cuts will be about 7%, Chairman Branch said.
More will have to be produced with less.