Higher education commissioner seeks buy-in for $1.1 billion plan


Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes outlined a proposal to increase base funding for public colleges and universities by $1.1 billion on Tuesday, as he works to secure buy-in from a new governor, a new lieutenant governor and a reconstituted Legislature.

As CEO of the state Higher Education Coordinating Board, Paredes is one part cheerleader and one part taskmaster for roughly 100 public universities, community college districts, state colleges, technical schools and health institutions.

In addition to seeking a 13.7 percent increase in base funding for those institutions, the coordinating board is pushing for a sizable boost in student financial aid. Just how these proposals will fly amid other fiscal pressures won’t become clear until lawmakers craft a budget next year.

If the coordinating board gets its way, funding for public universities would go up by a total of $516 million, or 11.8 percent, for the two-year spending plan. The outlay for 50 community college districts would rise by $243.1 million, or 13.8 percent. And the state’s main program for student aid grants would get a $138 million infusion, with the resulting $790 million covering eligible students to the tune of $5,300 each.

Paredes, backed by the nine members of the coordinating board appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, also wants some funding for universities to hinge on how well they perform on various metrics, such as increasing the total number of undergraduate degrees they award. Under a plan developed by the universities and approved by the board, schools that fall short would not be eligible for a slice of a proposed $235 million pie intended to incentivize improvements, but they also would not lose any of their base funding.

More broadly, Paredes is seeking buy-in — although not formal legislative endorsement — for an evolving set of higher education goals for 2030. Texas has made strides in the past 15 years, but still lags behind the nation as a whole on various metrics.

For example, 34.1 percent of Texans 25 to 34 years old have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree, well below the national average of 40.9 percent. The goals are also expected to include ensuring that students emerge from college with “marketable skills.”

Paredes said he has met with Gov.-elect Greg Abbott and has been in touch with Abbott’s policy advisers.

“We’ve talked about every one of these issues. I think there’s broad support for what we’re doing among the governor-elect’s advisers,” Paredes said in a conference call with reporters.

Abbott said Monday, as he did during the campaign, that the state must ensure that some of its universities rise to claim a spot among the top 10 public institutions of higher learning in the nation. The University of Texas at Austin is considered the best of the lot, ranked No. 17 by U.S. News & World Report.

Paredes said he is “very supportive” of Abbott’s goals. “Having one or more universities in the top 10 is a laudable goal,” he said. “My larger goal is to improve the quality of higher education in general.”

Paredes has been higher education commissioner for 10 years and, at least on paper, serves at the pleasure of his agency’s board.

Asked what his job status will be after Abbott takes office, he replied: “Obviously, if the governor wants to make a change I would accept that. I haven’t heard anything to that effect. My goal is to survive the session.”


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