Transparency in Texas Higher Ed: See For Yourself

Over the past six months, Texas higher education policy discussions have centered around calls for accessibility, affordability, and transparency. The Alcalde, the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, and others have informed these discussions by writing about UT’s accomplishments in the areas of accessibility, affordability, and value.

Now let’s take a moment to talk about transparency. Transparency is a term that has grown in its meaning and importance over the past few years. We use the word to convey the need to be open, to communicate, and to be accountable. Recently, detractors have accused the University of lacking in transparency.

But just because not everyone knows or heard the story doesn’t mean we are not telling it or that the information isn’t available. In fact, there is an abundance of publicly available information about UT-Austin and the UT-System. I am just a volunteer and active Texas Ex, and I got together with a friend and compiled a list of some links to publicly available data on the University:

All of these links  confirm there is an abundance of  information. UT-Austin and the UT System are remarkably transparent—national leaders even.

Some of this information is mandated by state or federal entities, while other information is provided voluntarily. Indeed, there is a reason that this data is collected and reported. It was discerned by the Texas legislature, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. Department of Education that this data would best inform the public and policy makers on the progress of higher education. The indicators were selected because there is evidence that the data we are collecting—at considerable expense to each college and university (public or private)—help inform and drive outcomes.

One member of the Austin chattering class went so far as to contend recently “transparency is all but nonexistent once dollars enter the hallowed grounds of our major universities.” This is false.

These detractors of higher education have made a lot of noise about the supposed “lack of transparency” on the part of university leaders. If their objection is that UT and A&M are not presenting the exact data in the exact format that they want to see it, that’s a conversation we can and should have. But it would mean acknowledging that the problem is not too few efforts at transparency but too many.

In fact, the amount of duplicate reporting suggests a remarkable lack of efficiency in the area of higher education accountability. Each report, data set, and website costs money to prepare, verify, and post. These labyrinthine reporting mandates drive up administrative costs while making diagnostic transparency harder to achieve.

There are costs to transparency. For example, the General Land Office can enter into negotiations on state land leases and purchases in a way that universities cannot. While the GLO’s method is far more efficient, the university’s way is far more transparent. This is the give and take of public policy. It is ironic that those who demand BOTH both transparency AND and efficiency refuse to recognize that there is often a tradeoff.


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