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Tier 1

UH moves closer to Tier I status

Good for them.

The University of Houston is on the verge of accessing additional state money that could help catapult the school closer to prestigious Tier 1 status, according to a preliminary report from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Both UH and Texas Tech University have been cleared to access the new National Research University Fund, pending a mandatory review by the state auditor’s office.

UH President Renu Khator said she hopes to use the money – the amount of which still needs to be determined – to recruit faculty, especially those in costly fields like science, technology and engineering.

“We have done a lot, but we have so much more to do,” she said Friday. “I want our city to be nationally and globally competitive. I want our university to be nationally and globally competitive.”

I’m sure that report exists somewhere on the THECB webpage, but if so I can’t find it. In any event, the state auditor will verify the findings then present its own report, and we’ll go from there. Getting to Tier I status will be good for UH, the city, and the state. I wish them the best of luck in the process.

Can this conference be saved?

Here’s your latest Big XII speculation.

Several reports indicate that Texas would be willing to share its Tier I revenue provided through the Big 12’s television contracts for football to help preserve the conference. That would not affect the $15 million provided each year to the school by the Longhorn Network.

But the key to keeping the Big 12 together still appears to be convincing Oklahoma to stay. The Sooners appeared ready to bolt to the Pac-12 with Oklahoma State in tow for most of the last week.

Even with the recent comments of OU president David Boren saying his school wouldn’t be “a wallflower” in a possible realignment scenario, the Sooners may be convinced to stay put after some initial apprehension.

“We just have to tap on the brakes and try to slow down,” a person familiar with the negotiations said. “There is still value in this conference. We all just have to realize that.”

This may already be obsolete, of course; indeed, it may be too little, too late. To be honest, I really don’t understand the mad rush towards 16-team super conferences. Speaking as a survivor of the WAC 16, there are many issues when there are that many schools. But then I’m also pretty sure that logic isn’t the driving factor here. Tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of As The Conference Turns.

Furloughs and pay cuts: Not just for school districts

For public universities, too.

Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, asked state senators on Wednesday for flexibility to cut pay for faculty and staff and mandate furloughs to cope with budget cuts topping 20 percent.

[…]

Kicking off several days of testimony by Texas public universities, Cigarroa asked for the ability to reduce pay and use furloughs, which are prohibited by state law, and for lawmakers to jettison data-reporting requirements that are duplicative and unnecessary.

If the cuts stand, they will make higher education less accessible and affordable for students and chip away at the overall quality of institutions, he said. In a weak position to recruit and hang on to great faculty, the state’s seven emerging research universities — including the University of Texas at San Antonio and – will lose steam in their quest for Tier One research status, he said.

As before, I’d say furloughs and pay cuts are a slightly less unpalatable alternative to firing a bunch of people. They’re not going to make our universities any better, they’re not going to help them attract and retain talent, and they’re not going to do the students who will be at these schools over the next two years any favors. I don’t see much evidence that the Republicans particularly care about any of that.

UH gets a boost in its rankings

Good news for UH:

The University of Houston’s quest to become the state’s next top tier university — a designation that would put it alongside Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University — received a major boost Tuesday.

The latest rankings from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching move UH to its highest category, for universities with “very high research activity.”

That ranking is updated every five years, based upon criteria including research expenditures, number of doctorate degrees awarded and the size of the university’s research staff.

UH previously ranked in Carnegie’s second tier, for “high research activity.”

Rice, UT-Austin and A&M are the only other Texas universities on the list, which is considered an indication of Tier One status.

That’s a nice accomplishment, which is the result of a lot of work. My congratulations to UH for achieving it, and my best wishes for completing the journey to full-fledged Tier One status.

The bad news:

[E]ven if UH were to qualify for the Tier One funding this year, it and other public colleges and universities are likely to sustain cuts — maybe significant ones — in basic state support for higher education.

That’s because the state is facing a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, and higher education is expected to be one of the main targets for cuts.

[UH President Renu] Khator acknowledged concerns that Tuesday’s announcement could be interpreted as a sign UH doesn’t need additional money from the state.

It does, she said, and the Carnegie designation proves that it will use it wisely.

“We have shown the state that the investment is worth it,” she said.

Sadly, the state isn’t interested in making any investments right now. Dan Patrick’s property tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, you know. Better luck next biennium.

UH’s academic argument for the Big XII

Interesting strategy.

The head of the Big 12 insists there are no plans to add Texas teams to the conference, but Renu Khator, chancellor and president of the University of Houston, apparently didn’t get the message.

She’s still pushing for membership in the Big 12 or another high-powered athletic league, saying the school deserves a spot because of its rising academic ambitions.

“Sometimes you get defined by the company you keep,” Khator said. “You compare your progress against the schools in your league. Being associated with the highest group is always a good thing.”

[…]

“For years, the University of Houston has improved its research and academic functions in its drive to rank among the premier universities in Texas,” the letter states. “We believe that its inclusion in the prestigious Big 12 conference would assist in this endeavor.”

[…]

Five Big 12 members, including UT and A&M, belong to the elite Association of American Universities, which represents the nation’s top research institutions. UH, Tech and Baylor all hope to join the group someday.

UH and Rice, meanwhile, compete in Conference USA, a collection of 12 schools in Texas and the South. Among C-USA members, only Rice and Tulane are in the AAU.

I think until such time as UH achieves either Tier 1 status or AAU membership, its best argument for inclusion in a BCS conference like the Big XII is going to be its athletics. That’s assuming that the Big XII has any desire to add members, which in turn assumes that the Big XII is in a position to be thinking about its long term stability. Let’s see what things look like next year, when Nebraska and Colorado are officially bidding adieu. Mean Green Cougar Red has more in a long and thorough post that is largely pessimistic about UH joining the Big XII.

The costs and rewards of pursuing Tier I

It’s going to cost a lot of money for the schools that have been authorized to pursue Tier I status to actually achieve it.

The University of Houston estimates it would cost an additional $70 million a year to reach its goal by 2015. The University of Texas at El Paso’s plan ultimately could add almost $200 million a year to its operating budget.

New state funds will help, but much of the money will come from the universities themselves, requiring substantial private fundraising even as the economy continues an uneven recovery.

“We would like to be back to the good old days where the state subsidized us more than it does but realistically, there’s not going to be a lot more money from the state,” said John Antel, the chief academic officer for UH. “We can’t charge students much more. We’re going to have to go out and raise the money.”

The potential reward for all that investment is also quite substantial.

The strategic plans filed with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board spell out how each school hopes to get there.

All intend to add both students and faculty, with faculty who will bring $1 million or more in research grants especially prized. And all seven promise to maintain or increase the number of minority students they serve.

You can find all of those strategic plans, including ones for the already-Tier-I UT and Texas A&M, here. The end result should be thousands of new jobs – not just faculty, but also staff to support the increased enrollments and new programs; I’d bet there will also be some construction involved as well – more students attending Texas universities, and higher graduation rates. Oh, and more high-end research being conducted in Texas as well. The economic impact of all this ought to be quite large. I can’t wait to see it come about.

UTSA football update

The Trib has a nice story about the state of UTSA’s fledgling football program.

Next fall, UTSA will spend millions to field a football team it hopes will someday compete with cross-state rivals like the University of Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. But the plan goes far beyond athletics. As the college makes a push to become one of the next Tier One research universities in Texas, campus leaders say the school’s academic and athletic goals are closely linked.

Students and administrators, led by UTSA President Ricardo Romo, hope the team will foster school pride and capture the attention of alumni, who they believe will be more likely to support university financially. They also hope a team will transform the university from a commuter school to one where students live and play. “The whole campus is kind of buzzing about it,” says Travis Goodrich, a UTSA sophomore. “We need school spirit. We don’t really have that right now.”

But there are skeptics. While many faculty have enthusiastically supported the creation of the football program, others have wondered whether the university has its priorities straight. Mansour El-Kikhia, president of UTSA’s faculty senate, says faculty support is mixed for the project. The major fear, he says, is that the team will distract from the university’s academic mission or divert dollars from the institutional budget. The university has pledged “that no funds will be taken away from the institution to finance this football team,” El-Kikhia says. “Of course, there’s always the fear that UTSA will become a diploma mill for athletes and so forth.”

UTSA had dreams for a football team long before Romo’s tenure as president began. But when he took the job, he was skeptical himself. “When I got here I didn’t think we had the resources to pull it off,” he says. “I needed to see some things happen.”

I’ve blogged about this before here and here; the Trib also has a sidebar story. As I’ve said, I think they’re in a strong position to be successful, in that they essentially have no local competition for fans’ attention and dollars. Having a team, especially one that does well on the field, can only enhance their visibility, which will be a benefit. Given the nature of college sports, the administration is more than a little too optimistic about what the costs will be, and those on the faculty who worry about it are right to do so. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pursue their plan, just that they ought to be a bit more realistic about it. As long as everyone’s expectations are properly set, I think they’ll look back on this and be glad they did it.

UH to raise admissions standards

That was the idea, or at least one of them, behind the push for more Tier 1 schools – to take some pressure off of UT and A&M by providing more places for kids in the top ten percent of their graduating classes to go.

The new standards would limit automatic admission to students graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school class — that’s required by Texas law, but UH now automatically admits those in the top 20 percent — and set higher minimum scores on the SAT and ACT admissions tests for everyone else. They must be approved by regents next week and would take effect in the fall of 2011.

Students who don’t meet the standards will be referred to UH-Downtown, an option [Provost John] Antel said would fulfill the university’s traditional mission of educating the city’s working class. UH-Downtown is open admission, meaning anyone with a high school diploma or GED can enroll.

[…]

Students were concerned that higher standards will hurt diversity, said Kenneth Fomunung, president of the student government association.

Antel said ethnicity and race will be considered during individual admission reviews of students who don’t otherwise qualify, which helped sway Fomunung.

“Without that, I would have been very, very reserved,” he said.

That is a big concern, as it has been at UT and A&M. I think as long as UH can continue to maintain its diversity, everyone will be happy with the transition it’s about to embark on. Stace has more.

More in support of Prop 4

Many groups and individuals are supporting Proposition 4, which is the constitutional amendment to help create more Tier One universities in Texas. One local group in favor of Prop 4 is the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I had a conversation last week with Chamber President Dr. Laura Murillo about Prop 4:

Download the MP3 file

Also last week, the Legislative Study Group held a press conference urging the passage of Prop 4. Here’s their release from that conference:

At a press conference today at HCC Coleman College for Health Sciences, Legislative Study Group (LSG) Chair, State Representative Garnet F. Coleman (D-Houston) along with LSG board members Representatives Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), and Hubert Vo (D-Houston) stood in support of Proposition 4, which will establish the national research university fund that will allow emerging research universities in the state to achieve national prominence as major research universities.

“As a representative with University of Houston and UH-Downtown in my district, it is high time that UH and other institutions around the state get the opportunity to compete for funds for national excellence. As a joint author and long time advocate of legislation that would establish more top tier research institutions, I am enthused that Proposition 4 will finally come before the voters.” said Representative Coleman.

LSG member Representative Ellen Cohen (D-Houston) added, “As a member of the House Higher Education committee, I was proud to coauthor and work on HB 51, the enabling legislation for Proposition 4. Increasing the number of Tier 1 research universities in Texas will benefit our state and our local communities while driving economic development.”

Texas currently has only three universities classified as tier one institutions even though it has the second highest population in the nation. New York has eight tier one universities and California ten.

“As an alumnus of the University of Houston and the chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, I’m proud to support this proposition. It marks a milestone for the future of education in Texas,” said Representative Turner.

Representative Vo added, “I am proud of the effect this proposition will have on Texas universities, particularly my alma mater, the University of Houston. It will go a long way towards bringing Texas up to scale nationally.”

Rep. Hochberg, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education added “This proposition is necessary to secure success for our state’s future students and to ensure that our state remains nationally and globally competitive.”

“Our students deserve more nationally respected options and a better higher education system in Texas, and it is important to remember that this begins with community colleges,” said Representative Coleman.

In addition, Rep. Coleman reiterated his call for greater investment and action from the state towards Texas’ higher education system. This includes lowering and freezing tuition rates, increasing scholarships for middle income families, preserving TEXAS Grants and the top ten percent, and properly funding community colleges in Texas.

For the best higher education system, it is imperative that the state recognize and support what is oftentimes the bridge to four year colleges and universities: community colleges. Increasing the role of early college high schools, and empowering these colleges ensures that a higher education is within reach of every Texas student that desires one.

State Representative Garnet F. Coleman (D-Houston) chairs the Committee on County Affairs, and serves on the Public Health and Calendars Committees. He also chairs the Legislative Study Group, a house caucus comprised of over 50 members that are committed to developing sound public policy for Texas families. Additionally, he serves on the Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding.

Of all the ballot propositions, this is the one I feel the most strongly about. I’m voting for Prop 4, and I hope you will as well.

UTSA-UT Health Science Center merger moves forward

I noted last month that the University of Texas-San Antonio and the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio were discussing the possibility of a merger as a way for UTSA to become a Tier 1 university. That idea has picked up some steam.

A group of experts dubbed “academic rock stars” by one observer will study the pros and cons of merging the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio with UTSA.

The move, announced Monday to the UT System Board of Regents, comes after lawmakers this year approved a bill that gives a path to elite status — and the potential for millions in funding — for emerging research institutions, including UTSA.

[…]

The advisory group is headed by Peter Flawn, former president of UT Austin and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Its members include prominent academic and health institution experts, one of whom has experience with two California universities’ decision to form a partnership, then separate.

“I’m very excited that it’s something that’s going to be taken very seriously,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. “These people are like academic rock stars.”

Van de Putte spurred a merger study years ago in which a consultant recommended against such an action. But this panel takes the matter to a new level, she said.

Regents Chairman James Huffines, announcing the creation of the group Monday, said it “very well may be the most prestigious advisory panel that has ever served” the UT System.

He wants it to report to the regents by June 1, 2010, months before the 2011 regular legislative session convenes.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said the subject deserves study because of community and state leaders’ interest.

Seems to me that when an advisory panel like this gets put together, you can pretty much tell what they’re eventually going to say. Which makes me that much more interested in the details of the original study, and the reasons why that consultant advised against a merger. Have conditions actually changed, or is this more about politics and opportunity? As I said before, this move makes intuitive sense to me, at least as far as the Tier 1 goal goes. But I claim no expertise in the matter, and Kent’s comment on that earlier post about this meaning another layer of bureaucracy for UT-HSC while likely not having any effect on the lives of UTSA’s students makes sense to me as well. We’ll see what they have to say.

Opposition to Prop 4

Prop 4, the Tier 1 Universities constitutional amendment, has gotten a lot of support across the spectrum. Any high-profile amendment will always have some opposition, however, and Prop 4 no exception.

A proposed constitutional amendment to help the University of Houston and six other Texas schools raise their national standing has drawn its first announced opposition: college students.

“The base of our argument is, research is not the great deal that university administrators and some state policy makers would make it out to be,” said Tony McDonald, vice chairman of legislative affairs for Young Conservatives of Texas and a law student at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s really not a very good economic bargain for the state.”

[…]

Supporters say more university research projects will be good for the state’s economy. Economist Ray Perryman is set to release his study on the potential economic impact of Proposition 4 today. Margaret Justus, a spokeswoman for Texans for Tier One, said Perryman’s report will dispute the Young Conservatives argument that research spending doesn’t really help the economy.

“We’ve got (support from) people who call themselves strong conservatives because they know strong research creates … great, high-paying jobs,” she said.

But McDonald said he doubts the projected benefits are real, and that much research now done by university faculty isn’t worthy of public support. Instead, he said, universities should focus on teaching.

“I feel that may hurt students at those universities,” he said. “It’s going to be drawing their professors out of the classroom.”
Young Conservatives of Texas has chapters at several schools that could benefit from Proposition 4, including UH, Texas Tech, UT-Dallas and UT-San Antonio. Chapter leaders at those schools didn’t respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

McDonald acknowledged that not everyone in the group wanted to oppose Proposition 4 but defended it as a group consensus.

When I think of the YCT, I think of affirmative action bake sales and not serious public policy analysis, so I can’t say I find their opposition to be a matter of concern. Be that as it may, here’s an accompanying article with the case for Prop 4.

A proposed constitutional amendment to boost research at the University of Houston and other Texas schools could create a million or more jobs and add billions of dollars in tax revenues, according to a study released Wednesday by economist Ray Perryman.

“And these are not just 1.2 million regular old, garden-variety jobs,” Perryman said. “Many of these jobs are the finest scientists, engineers doing the most exciting things that you can imagine.”

Perryman was in Austin to promote Proposition 4, which will be decided by voters in November. He was joined by former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and James Huffines, chairman of the University of Texas board of regents, who are co-chairs of the advocacy group, Texans for Tier One.

Their central argument is that building up a handful of universities would pay off in new jobs, innovative research and expanded business opportunities.

“Unquestionably, the jobs of the future are going to follow the brainpower,” Huffines said.

He and Hobby stressed that the proposal will not require new taxes, although Perryman’s report notes that additional state funding likely would be needed to sustain any gains.

You can read Perryman’s report here. I’m sold on Prop 4 – it’s the easiest vote on the ballot, if you ask me – but take a look at that report and see what you think. And you can add the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to the list of Prop 4 endorsers. A statement from them about Prop 4 is beneath the fold.

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Endorsement watch: Prop 4

The Chron begins its warmups for endorsement season by giving its nod to Prop 4, the easiest call on the ballot.

The ballot language is impenetrable, in the way that our constitutional amendments always are. But the plan itself is easy to understand.

The state has designated seven “emerging universities”: The University of Houston — go, Coogs! — along with Texas Tech, the University of North Texas, UT-Dallas, UT-El Paso, UT-Arlington and UT-San Antonio. As those seven prove that they’re emerging still further, heading for the Tier One big leagues, they’d be allowed to tap into a $500 million education fund to help them go all the way.

The exact definition of Tier One varies (How many dollars in research grants? What average SATs?). But by everyone’s reckoning, Texas now has only three of those big-deal schools: Rice, UT-Austin and Texas A&M. That’s a puny number, considering that California alone has nine; New York, seven; and piddling Pennsylvania, with a population half the size of ours, has four.

Such comparisons wound a Texan’s pride. And worse, they reflect a threat to the Texas economy. These days, global competition is about smarts, not natural resources. We need to train the super-skilled workers that businesses crave. But instead, every year Texas loses thousands more freshmen to out-of-state top-tier universities than it attracts. We can’t afford that brain drain.

But we can afford Prop. 4, even during this miserable recession. That’s because the $500 million would come from a defunct education fund that Texas scraped together years ago. That means no new taxes.

Can we say that again in case anyone missed it? No new taxes.

And, um, in case you’re texting and driving as you skim this: NO NEW TAXES!

How easy is it to love this amendment? Consider how hard it is to hate: We don’t know of anyone opposed.

I’m sure there will be plenty of people voting against Prop 4, whether out of ignorance, malice towards public education, or just a reflexive teabaggerish antagonism to all things government. Fortunately, I expect them to be a relatively small number in total, and this will pass with a substantial majority. And maybe now that the Chron has gotten started doing endorsements, they’ll get them all done in a timely manner. I can hope, right?

Endorsement watch: Getting in under the wire

It’s getting a little late in the game to be making endorsements, but a number of them have come out in the past week or so. Here’s a roundup of the ones that I’m aware of.

First, from the Harris County Young Democrats:

The municipal endorsements are as follows:

Mayor – Annise Parker
Controller – Ronald C. Green
At Large 1 – Herman Litt
At Large 2 – Sue Lovell
At Large 3 – Melissa Noriega
At Large 4 – Noel Freeman
At Large 5 – Davetta Daniels
District A – Lane Lewis
District B – Jarvis Johnson
District D – Wanda Adams
District F – Mike Laster
District G – Dexter Handy

In addition to municipal candidates, HCYD also endorsed two candidates for the HISD School Board. Alma Lara, a 35-year educator, received the nod for Position I, and Adrian Collins, a long time community activist, HISD parent and aide to President Obama, was endorsed for Position IX.

HCYD also endorsed two propositions to be on the ballot in November. Proposition 4 allows already existing funds within the State of Texas to be used to fund the creation of more Tier 1 universities. Proposition 9 enshrines the Texas Open Beaches act into the Texas Constitution to ensure that Texas’ coast line remains a publicly held treasure.

That’s the second endorsement I’ve seen of a challenger to Council Member Jolanda Jones. HAR declined to endorse in the race, and after the Houston Professional Firefighters Association rescinded their endorsement of CM Jones, they eventually took the next step and endorsed Daniels as well; I don’t have a direct link, but you can see it on their home page. The only other example I know of offhand is the real, non-hoax Christians for Better Government giving their nod to Andrew Burks over Council Member Sue Lovell in At Large #2. If I’m missing one somewhere, please let me know.

Meanwhile, Proposition 4 has racked up some endorsements as well. The AFL-CIO has teamed up with the Greater Houston Partnership, and both groups are joined by the Houston C Club, to support the constitutional amendment to expand Tier One universities in Texas. There’s a Texans for Tier One website for the cause, and you can read the press releases the group sent out in support of Prop 4. It’s generated enough interest that Nancy Sims thinks it might be a bigger driver of turnout locally than the Mayor’s race.

In the school board races, District I’s Alma Lara picked up endorsements from Constable Victor Trevino and former HISD Superintendent Kaye Stripling, while her opponent Anna Eastman landed the newly-formed Houston Business-Education Coalition (HBEC) PAC; they also endorsed Mike Lunceford in District V. Eastman, Lunceford, and challenger George Davis in District IX have the backing of the HISD Parent Visionaries group. And Adrian Collins, also running in IX, picked up the support of former candidate Daisy Maura, who lost to incumbent Larry Marshall in a runoff in 2005.

Finally, in the Mayor’s race, Annise Parker was endorsed by EMILY’s List. Still to come are endorsements from the Noah’s Arc PAC, whose area of interest is BARC and which was touting policy papers on the agency from Parker and Locke. I have been told that they will be making their recommendations soon. In the meantime, check out the responses they got to BARC-related questions from Controller candidates Pam Holm and MJ Khan and numerous Council candidates.

The amendments on the ballot

In addition to everything else, you will be voting on eleven proposed Constitutional amendments this November. State Rep. Scott Hochberg, as he has done every other year, provides a list of the amendments, some basic information about what they would do, arguments for and against them, and links to more information. I know I’m voting for Prop 4, the Tier 1 amendment. I’m leaning towards a Yes on Props 3 and 7, and a No on Props 9 and 11; I’m undecided on the rest for now. Go click over to Hochberg’s page and see what you think. Easter Lemming has more.

Another way to become Tier One

There’s more than one way to achieve Tier One status, at least for some universities.

When Ricardo Romo became president of the University of Texas at San Antonio a decade ago, he resolved to transform the sleepy commuter campus into a premier research university.

Today, the university is one of Texas’ fastest growing. While it is shedding its commuter campus label by attracting top students and professors, the goal of joining the ranks of top-notch research universities remains decades away.

That reality has prompted San Antonio lawmakers and community leaders to float the idea of merging UTSA with the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, a move that could catapult the combined institution to the top of the heap among Texas universities vying for the distinction.

After years of urging, state lawmakers passed a bill this spring that lays out a pathway to flagship status and a pot of money for seven emerging research institutions, including UTSA, UT-El Paso and the University of Houston.

But in keeping with the history of higher education in Texas, the terms of competition seem to favor wealthier schools, once again short-changing South Texas and borderland institutions that serve a large population of minority students.

But merging UTSA with the health science center would give the combined institution significant firepower. UTSA’s federal research spending would jump from $22 million per year to a combined $117 million, marching the institution to the front of the line for receiving money under the state’s flagship bill. It would also help San Antonio compete outside of Texas, where most top research universities include a medical school.

“We would be the next Tier One. No question about that,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

The decision, however, rests with UT regents. At the moment, it’s not on their radar, said Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT System and former president of the UT Health Science Center.

On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. It would be better if the legislation that authorized more Tier One funding were more equitable, but even putting that aside, I don’t see any obvious reason why UTSA and the UT-HSC in San Antonio shouldn’t merge. If you know of a good reason why not, please leave a comment and say so.

More Tier One schools

Here’s some genuine good news from Sunday night’s chaos.

Legislation intended to lift some of the state’s public universities to top-tier status has passed the House and Senate and now goes to Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to sign it.

The measure, House Bill 51, also includes authorization for a $150 million bond issue for the hurricane-damaged University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, part of a $1.3 billion package of funding for that campus, and $5 million for Texas A&M University-Galveston.

Seven so-called emerging research universities would compete for extra funding in hopes of joining the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University as nationally recognized research institutions. Rice University, which is private, is also a top-tier school.

The 2010-11 budget approved by the Legislature includes $50 million for the emerging universities in addition to their normal appropriations. The $50 million would be parceled out based on which schools raise the most money from private donations for enhancing research and recruiting faculty members.

Officials of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board say it could take 20 years and considerably more funding for even one of the seven emerging institutions — UT-Dallas, UT-Arlington, UT-San Antonio, UT-El Paso, the University of North Texas, the University of Houston and Texas Tech University — to rise into the big leagues

Still, lawmakers and higher education leaders said passage of the legislation represents a commitment that, in time, should lead to the development of more high-demand universities, reducing pressure on UT-Austin under the state’s automatic-admission law.

“This is one of those real privileges to carry this legislation,” said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

That is good news. You may recall a report from the Legislative Study Group, which I blogged about a year ago, that highlighted the need for more Tier I schools. I think this represents a major step forward, and I’m glad to see it got done. Kudos to all for that. Statements about HB51 from Reps. Ellen Cohen and Garnet Coleman are beneath the fold.

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More Tier I schools

Good news.

The Texas House on Friday voted unanimously on a plan making it easier for the University of Houston to gain elite status by gradually becoming a national “tier-one” research institution.

Houston, the country’s fourth largest city, deserves a public tier one university, said. Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, a member of the House Higher Education Committee.

“A tier-one university will attract that much more in the way of research and all the types of things that you can accomplish when you have tier one status,” she said.

Texas has two public tier-one schools — Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin. The lack of additional elite universities creates enrollment pressures at UT and A&M and causes a net loss each year of 6,000 high-achieving Texas high school graduates who leave for a top-tier university in another state.

Texas has identified seven emerging tier-one universities. Texas Tech, the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Dallas are generally considered in the upper echelon from which the next tier one university will emerge, said House Higher Education Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, author of HB 51, which requires Senate action before it heads to Gov. Rick Perry.

A Legislative Study Group report (PDF) from last year showed that those seven schools weren’t all that far off financially from meeting Tier I status. If the Lege budgets the $50 million Rep. Branch mentions for this bill, that would help a couple of them get there. There’s a lot more that can and should be done, but this is a good first step. I’ve got a press release from Rep. Garnet Coleman on the House passage of HB51 beneath the fold, and Postcards has more.

In related news, the Senate Higher Education Committee took action on the matter of tuition.

Senate Bill 1443, by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who chairs the panel, would limit increases in tuition and mandatory fees at the 35 institutions in various ways depending on a school’s current charges, recent increases and other circumstances. The limits include the inflation rate, 5 percent, $315 a year and $630 a year. The amount of legislative appropriations is also factored into the calculations.

That’s a key, as I’ve said before. We deregulated tuition so the state could cut its appropriations to the schools. We can’t now turn around and limit their ability to set tuition if we don’t make up the funding. I don’t know if SB1443 is adequate to that task, but at least it takes the need into account.

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