"Anybody that tries to predict Texas government just doesn't understand the situation."
~Stuart Long, Founder, Texas Legislative Service
With strong support from the Texas Legislature, the University of Houston System has been able to make significant progress toward achieving its goal of becoming one of the best metropolitan systems of higher education in the nation. This year the System witnessed record highs in both enrollment (63,846 students) and research ($115 million in awards), which would not have been possible without state funding for operations and infrastructure, as well as higher education policy that lays the groundwork for our success. For example, legislative support for Tier One has been instrumental in the University of Houston's progress toward becoming a nationally competitive research institution, while downward expansion (the enrollment of freshmen and sophomores) is allowing UH-Victoria to transform itself into a residential, destination university.
Looking to the upcoming legislative session, the UH System will work hard to sustain the Legislature's strong commitment to our universities and higher education in Texas. At the same time, we recognize that our elected officials will have to address the most significant fiscal challenge they have faced in decades. The University of Houston System's legislative agenda has been established within this context. By working together with the Legislature, the UH System believes that we can maintain the momentum achieved over the past several years, even in the face of limited resources.
To address the looming fiscal crisis, state leadership has recently directed reductions in current appropriations for all agencies. Certain exemptions were provided. Even though higher education represents only 12.5 percent of all state spending, it accounted for 41 percent of the total reductions. If the current momentum towards excellence is to be sustained, however, it is imperative that appropriations for state universities not be reduced disproportionately to other state agencies and services.
Formula funding is the primary way in which state universities pay for the salaries and operations support needed to deliver instruction and conduct research. Without sufficient resources, universities will see increased student/faculty ratios, reduced class offerings, and fewer mentoring opportunities. This, in turn, will result in longer times to graduation, faculty losses, fewer graduates and less research. In addition to supporting formula funding in general, the UH System will work with the Legislature on the following specific issues:
Outcomes Based Funding
There have been recent recommendations that the historical formulas be modified so that performance outcomes become the primary element. The UH System believes in performance evaluation and funding based on outcomes, but with major reductions in state appropriations anticipated, we do not believe this is the appropriate time to change the existing distribution method (which already includes a performance based funding element), since major changes would likely lead to a major redistribution of limited resources.
Formula funding allocated for pharmacy courses at academic institutions is lower than formula for similar courses conducted at health-related institutions. The UH System, in conjunction with the two similarly affected institutions, is requesting parity.
Tuition Revenue Bonds (TRB's)
All four UH System universities have submitted priority construction projects for legislative authorization and are poised to maximize and leverage historic low interest rates and construction prices to address critical space issues.
Financial Aid: TEXAS Grants, Work Study
State funding for student financial aid is essential if Texas is to expand access to higher education and facilitate student graduation. This is especially true at the UH System institutions, where the education of many of our students is not paid for by their families. Most of our students typically work to pay for college and rely heavily on financial aid. Therefore, the UH System encourages the Legislature to adequately fund TEXAS Grants and Work Study.
There are now 38 public universities in Texas with an extensive breadth of funding needs and priorities. The University of Houston System will work with the legislature to design an appropriations bill pattern that recognizes this diversity and allows each institution to maximize management flexibility in responding to funding reductions.
In 2009, the Legislature took a significant step forward in developing more Tier One universities in the state through the creation of the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP) and the National Research University Fund (NRUF). Like the Research Development Fund (RDF) and the Texas Competitive Knowledge Fund (TCKF) - which were established and funded during previous legislative sessions - these two new programs are designed to financially reward state universities for progress made in enhancing institutional research productivity. During the upcoming session, the UH System will make the following recommendations with respect to these four Tier One programs:
Continue Appropriations for the RDF, TCKF and TRIP
These programs represent a decade of visionary work by the Legislature to enhance economic development in the state through the research productivity of its universities. A significant retrenchment could reduce our momentum, reduce private donor confidence and put Texas at a disadvantage in establishing additional Tier One universities.
Develop a Distribution Methodology for NRUF
Resources for NRUF are already available through an existing endowment in the state treasury. The UH System will work with the Legislature to ensure that the NRUF endowment is professionally managed according to nationally recognized standards that will protect and grow the corpus. Additionally, legislation will be required to appropriate earnings from the fund to all of the qualifying Emerging Research Universities once they meet established benchmarks of excellence. This legislation should include a methodology for distributing resources immediately to qualifying institutions based on performance and merit. The UH System will work with the Legislature to determine a methodology that is equitable and merit-based.
UH Clear Lake Downward Expansion
UH-Clear Lake is the only university in Texas, and one of the few remaining in the nation, that does not enroll freshmen and sophomores. With the exceptional growth in community college enrollment and increasing demand for lower division instruction, it is now the appropriate time for downward expansion at UHCL. This will assist UHCL to better serve the Closing the Gaps goals of student participation and success. UHCL will also continue to have robust relationships with regional community colleges to facilitate student transfer and ensure sustained enrollments.
Repeal Requirement of an April UH System Board of Regents Meeting
The University of Houston System governing board is one of only two in the state that is required by law to meet in April (Stephen F. Austin State University is the other). For other boards, the law is either silent or simply requires them to meet at the call of the chair. Because of the natural cycle of the fiscal year, the UHS Board of Regents must often meet in both April and May, which adds unnecessary expenses and administrative burdens to the System.