Lone Star Wars: The Deprivation of Higher Education in Texas

Guest blogger Prof. Terry Garrett  is currently an associate professor of government at The University of Texas at Brownsville and serves as the chair of the Government Department and Provost Fellow for Leadership. He is the current president of the Texas Brownsville United Faculty, local chapter of the Texas Faculty Association - email: texasbrownsvilleunitedfaculty@gmail.com

“Lone Star Wars: The Deprivation of Higher Education in Texas”

August 15, 2011

Just a few days ago Governor Rick Perry announced that he was running for president of the U.S.[1] This occurred despite the fact that he declared previously that Texas secession was possible.[2]  While the state clearly is no longer being considered for striking out on its own, the mindset behind the declaration is still in place.  And for higher education policy in Texas, as well as the ramifications for the U.S. should Governor Perry be elected, there bodes a future of tax cuts nationally combined with spending cuts for colleges and universities.  The ideological driver specifically behind Governor Perry’s higher education policy is the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF).[3]  Key to the TPPF’s strategy – and Governor Perry – are the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” designed to change public higher education in Texas.  The solutions (and goals) are briefly summed here …

1. Measure teaching efficiency and effectiveness.

Goal: Improve the quality of teaching by making use of a public measurement tool to evaluate faculty teaching performance that makes it possible to recognize excellent teachers.

2. Publicly recognize and reward extraordinary teachers.

Goal: Create a financial incentive to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching at Texas’ colleges and universities that will help attract the best teachers from across the nation.

3. Split research and teaching budgets to encourage excellence in both.

Goal:  Increase transparency and accountability by emphasizing teaching and research as separate efforts in higher education, and making it easier to recognize excellence in each area.

4. Require evidence of teaching skill for tenure.

Goal: Highlight the importance of great teachers by evaluating teaching skill in nominating and awarding faculty tenure.

5. Use “results-based” contracts with students to measure quality.

Goal: Increase transparency and accountability to students with learning contracts between Deans, department heads, and teachers that clearly state the promises of each degree program to each student.

6. Put state funding directly in the hands of students.

Goal: Increase college access and make students the actual customers for higher education with student-directed scholarships for undergraduate and graduate education with funding from the state’s current appropriation that goes directly to colleges and universities.

7. Create results-based accrediting alternatives.

Goal: Encourage greater competition in higher education and more choices for students by creating an alternative accrediting body that would focus on results and the college’s or university’s ability to uphold any obligation or promise made to the student.[4]

The effect of the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” combined with severe budget cuts in the 2012-2013 biennial budget for higher education in Texas is severe.  The “Solutions” are politically loaded and have policy consequences that have included professors being “measured” for teaching productivity to determine their individual efficiencies at the University of Texas system[5] and the Texas A&M system – though in each case the TPPF and its policies were also criticized.[6] Texas A&M, a member of the prestigious American Association of Universities, was warned by the president of the organization because of the adoption of the TPPF’s “Seven Solutions” for its adverse impact on scholarly research.[7] With respect to the overall budget for the state of Texas, the estimate is that $1.7 billion will be cut in the next budget cycle as “the $21.1 billion budgeted for higher education represents a 7.6 percent drop from the $22.7 billion budgeted in 2010-11.”[8] In many instances, institutions have resorted to raising tuition costs to students or have fired employees – staff and academic – in order to alleviate cuts in services or simply make them.[9] The full effects of budget cuts and the “Seven Solutions” on the overall Texas higher education have not yet been fully realized.  The prognosis for the scholarly community in terms of reasonable expectations for advancement, remuneration, and job security is not good.

Wither Texas, whither the US?

With regard to higher education policy nationally, there are many “ifs” for the U.S. if Governor Perry were to become president after the 2012 elections.  The ramifications of the 2012-2013 budget cuts have not been fully realized, though much of the potential for growth in higher education in Texas has been reduced.  While the population of the state continues to grow, fewer resources will be made available for incoming freshman to afford a public higher education, thus resulting in a “lost generation” of Texas students.[10]  The cost of a public higher education will be less affordable.  If Governor Rick Perry wins in November 2012 and has the support of Congress, there will be little doubt that he will do the same for higher education policy in the U.S. as he has done so for Texas.  There can be little doubt about that prospect.  A President Perry would promote and try to implement his TPPF-based proposals much in the same fashion as another former Texan, President George W. Bush, did shortly after he was sworn into office with No Child Left Behind in 2002.[11]

[1] April Castro (12 August 2011) Perry announces he’ll run for president.  The Boston Globe. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://articles.boston.com/2011-08-12/news/29881167_1_governor-rick-perry-texas-governor-presidential-field

[2] Alexander Mooney (16 April 2009) Texas governor says secession possible. CNN. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/04/16/texas-governor-says-secession-possible/

[3] Texas Public Policy Foundation (n.d.).  Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.texaspolicy.com/

[4] TPPF. (n.d.) 7 Solutions: Strengthening Higher Education for Texas’ Future. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://texashighered.com/7-solutions

[5] Reeve Hamilton. (5 May 2011). UT System Releases Data on Faculty “Productivity.” The Texas Tribune. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/higher-education/ut-system-releases-data-on-faculty-productivity/

[6] Holly K. Hacker. (24 May 2011). UT, A&M faculty productivity criticized in studies — and studies criticized, too. The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20110524-ut-am-faculty-productivity-criticized-in-studies-and-studies-criticized-too.ece

[7] Robert M. Berdahl. (n.d.). AAU Letter to Chancellor McKinney.  Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://Www.theeagle.com/images/eagle/ctobox/berdahl.pdf

[8] Diane Smith. (20 January 2011). Texas budget plan would cut $1.7 billion from higher education. Ft. Worth Star Telegram.  Retrieved 8/15/2011 http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/01/19/2781778/texas-budget-plan-would-cut-17.html#ixzz1V9KGNMiX

[9] Reeve Hamilton. (26 July 2011). Texplainer: Will Budget Cuts Mean Higher Tuition? The Texas Tribune. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/higher-education/texplainer-will-budget-cuts-mean-higher-tuition/

[10] Melissa Ludwig. (2 March 2011). Grant cuts could result in ‘lost generation’ of students: Reducing Texas grants program seen as closing the door on the poor. San Antonio News Express.  Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/article/A-lostgeneration-of-students-now-feared-1032771.php#ixzz1V9WoBbPH

[11] Education Week. (4 August 2004). No Child Left Behind. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/no-child-left-behind/

Editor’ Note

For more on Perry see:

1. “Newest Presidential Contender Has Strong Views on Higher Education” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 15. 2011.

2)  “Their Vehicle to Power:The New Apostolic Reformation seeks dominion over society and government — and it looks like Perry is their chosen candidate.”in Alternet, Aug. 15, 2011.