Of the more than 4,000 degree-granting institutions in the country, in President Obama’s mind the schools of the UT System seem among the most critical. And so this week, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa was among a dozen education leaders invited to meet privately with the president.
The chancellor’s inclusion signals good things for the UT System and the state, former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says. Cigarroa has been growing more and more prominent; in September, he was chosen along with Spellings for a four-person panel at NBC News’ Education Nation Summit.
“I think it suggests that he has a lot of credibility and authority,” Spellings told The Alcalde of Cigarroa’s White House invite. “Not only his health science background, his academic background, his management background, but also the fact that he’s one of the few Hispanic leaders at that level is significant. And obviously, Texas is an important place and important institution.”
Talk centered on some key issues, Cigarroa reported after the meeting: decreasing student loan debt, improving access and quality while controlling costs, speeding up students’ time to degree, advancing students based on competency, and making efficient use of campus facilities.
Earlier this year, Cigarroa unveiled a nine-point framework for excellence within the UT System that addressed many of those issues. The plan was praised by everyone from ardent Republican Gov. Rick Perry to passionate Democratic state Rep. Judith Zaffirini (and that is not an easy combination to please).
Having that plan put him at ease at the White House because he felt aligned with Obama’s goals, Cigarroa told the Texas Tribune. “I actually felt very comfortable around that table, because we’ve been very thoughtful about this,” he said.
Other guests at the meeting included Carnegie Mellon president Jared Cohon, UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Holden Thorp, and Lumina Foundation for Education CEO Jamie Merisotis.
Of course, UT’s place near the top of the president’s list of key higher ed institutions has been signaled before. In August 2010, Obama chose to deliver a critical education policy speech on the Forty Acres.
“Education is an economic issue,” he told the audience in Gregory Gym. “Education is the economic issue of our time.”
If education is a top priority for the administration, Texas and the UT System are at the epicenter of it.
And that is good for the state, Spellings says: “It’s like motherhood and apple pie. Of course when Texas is showcased on the national stage, it speaks well of the state and what’s going on there from a public policy perspective.”
Photo courtesy the Texas Tribune