Higher Ed in Texas Isn’t Broken: UT Chancellor

In higher education, just as in virtually any other endeavor, there always is a need for innovation focused on continual improvement. And perhaps at no other time in recent history has there been such spirited debate in Texas over the desire to accelerate change at our public universities to meet the state’s growing needs.

While it is indisputable that change is needed to make higher education better, it is important that we develop a unified effort to formulate our solutions to challenges. So I must take issue with the op-ed by Thomas K. Lindsay published Oct. 23 in the Houston Chronicle (“Texas facing higher education crisis”), which unfairly takes aim at institutions of higher learning.

In it, Lindsay states “Adjusting for inflation, state appropriations to public higher education more than doubled between 1990 and 2009. Over the last four decades, taxpayer support of public higher education has, at the very least, kept pace with inflation and enrollment growth.”

From The University of Texas System‘s perspective, that statement misses the mark. In fact, state appropriations per full-time student, adjusted for inflation from fiscal year 1987 to fiscal year 2010, decreased 11.9 percent among UT System academic institutions, and declined 16.8 percent at the UT System’s health institutions over the same period.

Further, Lindsay calls Texas higher education institutions “troubled,” which does a disservice to the students who are enrolled in them and the significant efforts being put forth to address our biggest challenges. The fact is that UT System institutions continue to thrive despite a national economic downturn. Sure, there always is room for improvement, but higher education in Texas isn’t broken—not by a long shot.

The UT System recognizes where improvement is needed, and with leadership from our regents and university presidents, I crafted a framework action plan this year for advancing excellence and fostering more productivity and efficiency to serve our students better. Lindsay’s criticism seems to come a bit late, as leaders from all quarters of Texas have roundly endorsed this plan, which we believe will produce meaningful results in the coming years. People with whom I speak across the state are eager to calm the negative rhetoric and move forward with productive and positive conversations. It is time for all Texans to appreciate the great value of our institutions of higher education.

Yes, student success—along with issues of access and affordability—remain top priorities for the UT System, and we always welcome robust discourse on how best to address them.

We only ask that those discussions rely on thoughtful insight, not mischaracterizations intended to produce more headlines or catchy sound bites.

Cigarroa is chancellor of The University of Texas System


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