Gov. Perry’s “State of the State” Address: What Does It Mean for UT?

In his “State of the State” address at the Capitol Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry spoke to a few of the issues alumni are watching closely this legislative session.

Fixed Four-Year Tuition Rates

I’ve called for a four-year tuition freeze for incoming freshmen, and I know Chairman Branch has been working hard on this issue.

This will provide students and families cost certainty, as their tuition will be locked in at the rate they pay their first semester for the next four years.

This will also encourage them to graduate on time, which is a problem we simply can’t ignore anymore.

House higher education committee chair Dan Branch (D-Dallas) has filed legislation that would require public universities to offer a four-year, fixed rate tuition option. In the UT System, only UT-Dallas and UT-El Paso have similar options in place. In a Senate finance committee hearing this week, UT-Austin president Bill Powers expressed an openness to the option, but said that when a fixed-rate tuition idea was discussed in previous years, students at UT were not receptive. Proponents say these measures would help families plan for college and encourage on-time graduation.

Outcomes-Based Funding

Currently less than 30 percent of full-time students at our four-year institutions graduate in four years, and only 58 percent have their degree in six.

That’s why we should tie at least a portion of state funding—I’m suggesting a minimum of 10 percent—based on the number of graduates.

We need to encourage these schools to get their students educated and ready to work as quickly as possible.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has recommended tying that same amount of base funding to a set of seven outcomes, most of which are measurements of completion. Rep. Branch’s House Bill 25 suggests up to 25 percent of funding could be based on performance. On campus last week, Branch and Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), the chair of the Senate higher education committee, said they support the idea of outcomes funding, and that the 10-25 percent range allows legislators to gauge the effects of incentivizing graduation. At the Senate finance committee this week, Pres. Powers indicated that UT-Austin might benefit slightly, but that the University’s inability to grow significantly may be a problem under this scheme in the future.

A New South Texas University

Today, the students of South Texas are able to stay closer to home to earn their college degrees.

This area of the state is critical to our state’s future, and our investment in the children of South Texas will be returned a thousand-fold.

That’s why I’m calling for the legislature to pass, by a two-thirds vote, a bill necessary to give South Texas access to the Permanent University Fund.

The University of Texas System has committed to creating a new university on the Rio Grande Valley by, in essence, combining UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American. The proposed university would also incorporate a new South Texas medical school. Legislators from South Texas may (or may not) be working together to make this a reality. Neither UT-Brownsville nor UT-Pan American currently receive financing from the Permanent University Fund, an investment structure that partially funds UT System universities.

A Nod to Sen. Judith Zaffirini

 Texans succeed because you, Chairwoman Zaffirini, have helped create a system of affordable, accessible higher education.

Zaffirini (D-Laredo), BS ’67, MA ’70, PhD ’78, Life Member, has continually championed higher education—and UT in particular—in the Legislature. Zaffirini serves on the Senate finance committee and higher education committee, of which she formerly served as chair. She chairs the Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Education Governance, Excellence & Transparency, which oversees higher education coordination and governing boards. The joint committee has recently discussed the potential for conflicts of interest in higher education.

You can watch the Governor’s address here.

Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons.


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