I am frequently reminded that matters of Higher Education are of great importance to District 134. Constituents – the most degreed in the state – express their concerns via letters, emails and phone calls. Recently, this fact was underscored as many attended the Higher Education Forum I hosted with my colleague and guest speaker, Representative Dan Branch, Chairman of the Higher Education Committee.
I am honored to serve on the Committee with Chairman Branch, an individual who puts the needs of the state first and foremost. I shared one example of his character and commitment in my introductory remarks at the Forum. During the 81st Legislative Session, Rep. Branch had successfully charted his bill on Tier One universities through most of the legislative process when he was approached by Representative Craig Eiland. Though they are from two different parties, the two worked to attach Rep. Eiland’s bill related to the rebuilding of University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) to Rep. Branch’s bill, thus ensuring it would at least make it to the House floor. However, with only 72 hours remaining in the session, both bills also ran the risk of failure if debate was prolonged. Their effort ultimately proved successful.
Using an excellent and informative slide presentation, anecdotes and statistics, Chairman Branch touched on the Higher Education Committee process, the Top Ten Percent Rule, the road to increased Tier One Universities in Texas, the economic realities across the state today and anticipated financial challenges in the next session.
To view Rep. Branch’s presentation in its entirety, click here for the video.
Remarks from Chairman Branch include:
- The biennial budget includes a $22.8 billion investment in Higher Education covering 38 public universities, 10 medical centers, and 80 community college campuses. General Academics funding increased by 3.6%, Community College funding increased by 8.1%; and Health Related Institutions funding increased by 4.9%.
- The budget encompasses a $260 million increase for financial aid, providing aid to approximately 45,000 more students. In referencing this “phenomenal increase,” Rep. Branch noted, “Many Republicans and Democrats knew investing in our students pays some serious dividends. We’ve got a lot of economic statistics that say you get anywhere from $2 to $8 back for every $1 invested in people getting their degrees and then they in turn become taxpayers and engaged citizens.”
- Recognizing Texas’ population of approximately 25 million, Chairman Branch pointed out that 1.3 million students are enrolled in the higher education system, and of that, significantly over half are in the community college system. “The real muscle – if you’re trying to grow and close the gaps like we are,” he said. “Is that we have to pay attention to our community college systems which are some of the best in the country and have some of the best value in the country.”
- The Houston area receives over 1/3 of all funds budgeted for higher education.
- In an update on Rep. Branch’s HCR 288, a bill directing University Boards of Regents to limit increases in total academic costs charged to resident undergraduate students, he noted at the Forum that eight universities have proposed tuition increases limited to 3.95% or less than $280 per student per academic year. As of this writing the total is now nine universities. Please note that the cap does not include additional fees covering non-academic costs.
- With an anticipated budget shortfall and a continued decline in sales tax revenue, state agencies are already undergoing budget cuts. “It’s healthy to force us to think about how to be more efficient,” said Rep. Branch who sits on the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) currently reviewing submitted cuts.
- Summary of Interim Charges for the Higher Education Committee:
- Evaluate the state’s continuing effort in closing the gaps in success, participation, excellence, and research by 2015.
- Study financial aid.
- Review Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
- Study and recommend strategies for improving community college participation and success initiatives.
- Study and recommend strategies for reducing cost of instructional materials.
- Analyze higher education funding mechanisms (including capital improvements).
- Monitor UTMB capital improvement progress following Hurricane Ike.
- Study feasibility of offering curriculum that emphasizes Western civilization & American traditions.
- Monitor Higher Education Coordinating Board data collection & management.