Perry threatens damage to state with misguided A&M, UT plans
by Jeff Latcham
May 13, 2011 | 1557 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Count us among conservatives who are not impressed with Gov. Rick Perry’s assault on higher education, particularly at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin.

We’re still waiting to see what emerges from the Legislature regarding local school districts. But Perry’s game is started at the state’s two flagship public institutions through regents and appointments he’s controlled over his three terms.

If you haven’t been paying attention, some regents at both schools are essentially working along with Perry contributors to reduce academic research and instead focus on cranking out as many graduates at the lowest cost attainable.

Considering Texas is the second most populous state but only has three Tier 1 institutions (including Rice University, a private school, with UT and A&M) the thought has long been the state needed more, such as Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, UT-Dallas or others to reach that level.

The Texas Tribune explains Tier 1 status as: “Schools that receive at least $100 million each year in research grants, have selective admissions and low student-faculty ratios and competitive faculty salaries are typically considered tier-one universities. Members of the American Association of Universities are also typically considered to be tier-one schools.”

Now, what’s the advantage to having a Tier 1 university in your state? Obviously the research dollars are helpful and the spinoff industries that arise from that. Would the Austin area compete with Silicon Valley for corporations without UT’s presence? And then there are the top-flight students and professors, who choose to these schools for the opportunity to work and learn from cutting edge research.

In responding to the push to increase enrollment, reduce research and costs toward greater “efficiency,” UT President Bill Powers issued a statement earlier this week rebuking some of the points being pushed:

• “That (UT) is inefficient: in fact, when comparing the number of degrees it issues for the amount of revenue it gets, UT ranks No. 1 among 120 leading public research universities in the country in efficiency. Its administrative expenses are also half the state agency average.”

• “That it resists change: In fact, UT has revamped its undergraduate curriculum with signature courses, taught by senior faculty (including Powers), that emphasize critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and cogent writing.”

• “That it isn’t leveraging the value of its intellectual property: In fact, in the first eight months of the fiscal year, UT has raised $26.7 million in intellectual property licensing and royalties. Last year, it made $14.3 million, and that ranked it among the top 20 schools in the country.”

In fact, UT and A&M regularly make various lists of “best value” schools where students get the most bang for their buck. Both schools are among the largest in the nation and piling in more students on top won’t enhance the learning experience at either.

There are certainly many institutions already in the state where a more economical degree can be had and that’s a good thing. Reducing the quality of our top institutions only reduces our competitiveness as a state.

At a time when our nation has lost its competitive edge in manufacturing for a number of reasons, can we really afford to default on our technological advantages by reducing research? Not every gain in life can be immediately quantified with a dollar amount.
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