It’s easy to lose sight in a debate over cost and efficiency that what matters most is the value of a UT degree.
Among the many buzzwords flying around in our state’s conversation about higher education—efficiency, transparency, productivity, graduation rates, cost—the one that’s conspicuously absent is value.
What is the value of a UT degree, and how would proposals to change the University affect its worth?
We must keep these questions front and center, because if we don’t, we risk damaging something that could take decades to fix.
College rankings, peer reviews, recruiter surveys, commercialization rates, and research funding dollars suggest that the quality of a University of Texas at Austin degree has improved dramatically in the last 50 years and is more valuable than ever. But those gains have been incremental and hard-fought.
Adding value takes time. Raising graduation rates, boosting the caliber of students, recruiting and retaining world-class faculty, doing cutting-edge research, re-imagining a core curriculum—all of that now must be done with limited resources, alongside other legislative priorities and mandates. But we must remember that at every turn, UT is competing against the country’s top universities, all of which are also trying to improve.
It’s also important to remember that the value of a UT degree is not assessed only within the confines of Texas. Changes that may not put UT at a competitive disadvantage within the state might well do so in the global marketplace.
That’s why proposals to cut costs or improve efficiency, without considering the impact to value, are so disconcerting. Doubling class sizes or faculty workloads might appear to double efficiency, but could also mean halving the quality of the education.
UT has been and remains committed to improving value. The Commission of 125 approached its work of charting the University’s path to the top on a simple assumption: making UT the country’s premier public teaching and research university would also make it the most valuable to its students and to the state of Texas. Its recommendations to create a disciplined culture of excellence, revamp the core curriculum, and focus on hiring great leaders are investments in the value of a UT degree.
Can there be efficiency gains, productivity increases, and cost relief that do not damage value? Of course. And that’s where every discussion should start.
The drafters of the Texas constitution were quite clear on their intentions when they provided for the establishment of “a university of the first class.” Any proposal that forgets that should be summarily dismissed.
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Kay Gresham Szabo: