The state’s main student financial aid program received a 25 percent increase in funding. A university with a medical school was authorized for the Lower Rio Grande Valley. And Bill Powers pretty much has a guarantee from three newly confirmed regents that they won’t try to oust him from his job as president of the University of Texas.
The regular legislative session, which concluded on Monday, offered drama as well as substance regarding higher education. A quick review:
Spotlight on Powers. The House and Senate passed resolutions supporting the president of the Austin flagship amid reports that some UT System regents were trying to run him off. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, his voice breaking with emotion, assailed the regents for “going around” Powers and “trying to micromanage” the university.
Reining in regents. Lawmakers weren’t above a bit of micromanaging themselves, restricting UT board spending on travel, food, meetings and investigations of campuses. Senators extracted promises from UT board appointees Jeff Hildebrand, Ernest Aliseda and Paul Foster that they wouldn’t try to get rid of Powers. And all boards of regents could not dismiss a campus president without a recommendation to do so from the system chancellor, provided Perry doesn’t veto that measure.
Financial aid. The Texas Grant program, the state’s main student financial aid initiative, saw a 25 percent increase in funding to $724.6 million for the two-year budget, more than making up for cuts during the previous legislative session. Overall state spending on higher education is up $669 million, or 4.4 percent.
Construction bonds. Eleventh-hour talks couldn’t save a plan to authorize more than $2 billion in bonds, including $95 million for an engineering building at UT and as much as $83 million for an engineering and science building at Texas State University. Perry hasn’t signaled whether he plans to add so-called tuition revenue bonds to the to-do list for the special session he called just after the regular one ended.
Fixed-rate tuition. Perry got what he wanted: a requirement that public universities offer entering students the option of paying the same tuition rate for four years.
Outcomes-based funding. The governor advanced another of his goals with legislation that links 10 percent of base funding for community colleges to completion rates and other performance measures. The provision wasn’t applied to universities, though — a Perry priority that he might add to the special session.
Medical schools. The UT System didn’t need legislative permission or funding for its plan to establish a medical school in Austin, but it needed — and received — approval and money for such a school in the Valley. UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the medical school will be part of the new university.
Top 10 percent law. UT-Austin’s authority to limit admission of high-ranking students based on their class rank has been extended and now is scheduled to expire after the 2017-18 academic year.
Higher Education Coordinating Board. The state’s higher education agency lost its power to pull the plug on low-producing degree and certificate programs, as well as approval authority for campus capital projects.
Transparency. In a standoff over legislators’ access to confidential UT System records, the system blinked, agreeing to turn over the goods. Lawmakers required boards of regents to broadcast their meetings over the Internet but stopped short of insisting on full disclosure of donors who contribute to foundations that support state agencies or higher education institutions.