Recent higher education reform efforts in Texas, developed by the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and championed by Governor Rick Perry, have many wondering how much damage might be done to one of the country’s largest and best public university systems.
The ‘solutions‘ proposed by TPPF, and marketed heavily by board member and major Rick Perry campaign donor Jeff Sandefer, would dramatically shift even the state’s top research campuses away from research and toward teaching. They cast the student in the role of consumer, basing professor pay and tenure decisions primarily on teaching evaluations, replacing state support to institutions with direct grants to students, creating contracts between students and institutions, and maintaining a distinct line between teaching and research activities and funding.
Mike McKinney, Texas A&M Chancellor and former Rick Perry chief of staff, has already drawn national criticism for creating and publishing a ‘balance sheet‘ that measured the revenue generation of each individual faculty member based on salary, teaching, and grant awards. This exercise, promoted by the Governor and TPPF, resulted in a swift rebuke from the Association of American Universities (AAU).
Next, Governor Perry announced that he wanted institutions to create a BA degree that would cost only $10,000 (compared to the current average cost of over $31,000 at Texas public universities). Widespread skepticism of the ability to create a quality degree that would cost so little did not stop the state’s Higher Education Commissioner from embracing the idea.
Then, a senior fellow at TPPF was given a controversial $200,000 consulting position with the UT System. His appointment lasted 50 days before the concerns of the public, legislators and institutions led to his dismissal.
Now, UT System regents’ chairman Gene Powell has circulated a memo that calls for increasing UT enrollment by 10 percent per year for four years and halving tuition at the same time, moves he claims would make UT the best public institution in the country. These recommendations are in direct opposition to a blue ribbon panel that recommended enrollment at UT Austin be reduced to improve the quality of the undergraduate education there. Judith Zaffarini, chairwoman of the state’s Senate Higher Education Committee, has issued sharp criticism of Powell’s suggestions, saying that his goals are “mutually exclusive” and “detrimental to the pursuit of excellence.”
As this battle rages, others in Texas are weighing in against the reforms, including alumni and university boosters. Meanwhile, all of higher education is watching to see if Texas will allow one of the nation’s top public institutions, UT Austin, be so radically undermined.
In an effort to give more students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree and enter the workforce early, the legislature passed SB 5442, “Requiring the development of three-year baccalaureate degree programs.” The bill, which was delivered to the Governor for approval on April 12th, requires institutions of higher education to provide degree programs that enable academically qualified students to graduate in three years. The bill does not explicitly define “academically qualified students,” thereby leaving it up to the higher education institutions to make their own rules. According to the bill, qualified students must not be required to enroll in summer school or take a more than full-time credit load in any term in order to graduate early. They must also be able to take classes in their major starting in their first term. The legislature hopes this will have a positive effect on graduation rates, as well as lower the cost of a baccalaureate degree for both the state and the student.
Of course, the idea of three-year degree programs is not new. In fact, students coming into the UW with 45 credits or more can already, with attentive advising and careful planning, earn a bachelor’s degree in three years. However, the degree must still meet the same university requirements as those earned in four years. While legislators want to make it easier to apply existing credits to students’ degrees, those students must still earn at least 180 credits total and meet all distribution requirements. With more and more students coming into the UW with AP and IB credit, this option has become increasingly attractive to students eager to graduate and enter the work force. However, others have actually found that the push to graduate in three (or fewer) years is detrimental to their college experience. This prompted the ASUW Senate to pass a resolution giving students the right to waive excess AP and IB credits if they so choose. Either way, students’ options for shaping their educational experience, be it three years or four, are likely increasing.
Preserving the access to and quality of higher education is paramount in the face of massive budget cuts. Two bills, HB 1795 (Enacting the higher education opportunity act) and SB 5915 (Regarding higher education funding and performance), seek to achieve this goal by:
1. Giving tuition-setting authority to universities
2. Reforming Financial Aid
3. Strengthening accountability
Legislators hope this will preserve the quality of higher education while protecting affordability for students and their families. The House Higher Education committee passed a substitute version of HB 1795 in February, while SB 5915 just had its first hearing in the Senate Ways & Means committee on April 6th. While HB 1795 has not been altered since its hearing more than a month ago, the issues that it seeks to address are still relevant, and we anticipate both bills to remain in play. Please click on the table below to see a summary of the similarities and differences between the two bills.
Earlier this week, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a new report authored by current professor and former University of Michigan President James Duderstadt. The report, A Master Plan for Higher Education in the Midwest: A Roadmap to the Future of the Nation’s Heartland, chronicles the overall failure of the Midwest to transform itself from economic engine of the industrial age to being at the forefront of the knowledge economy.
Duderstadt identifies what he calls lifelong and lifewide education as the key to succeeding in today’s economy and in the future. Like many, he argues that more Americans will increasingly need to access different forms and levels of education throughout their lifetimes if they are to succeed in a rapidly and continually changing economic landscape. The report lays out a roadmap for a newly imagined, highly collaborative, mission-diverse and better funded regional higher education system.
Duderstadt’s proposals include:
- Broadening boundaries beyond the state, increasing collaboration between institutions and governments, and creating a more systemic perspective that integrates all of the entities that comprise a ‘knowledge ecology’.
- Increasing higher education engagement with the K-12 system to increase educational performance and transition.
- Facilitating movement between institutions in the region, but also emphasizing the importance of mission differentiation.
- Adopting best practices from other countries, specifically highly successful European models including polytechnic universities and alternative ways of dealing with the transitional years of grades 11-14.
- Shifting the funding paradigm for public higher education including a high tuition, high financial aid model, and implementing differential taxing of future earnings as Britain currently does.
- Expanding higher education, including the creation of new institutions focused on non-traditional students.
- Increasing regional investment in R&D, strengthened focus on tech transfer activities, and investment in cyberinfrastructure.
- Rebuilding the perception that education is a critical public good that requires healthy investment and support.
Overall, Duderstadt imagines more autonomous institutions that can react quickly to a changing environment, are accountable to the public through specific and measurable performance targets, are adequately funded through higher tuition levels and increased public investment, are differentiated strongly by mission, and serve a much larger and diverse population of students. He imagines that both public, independent, for-profit and new kinds of institutions will all have an important role to play in this system.
Duderstadt acknowledges the large influence of both the California Master Plan and the Bologna Process in the creation of his roadmap. He lays out next steps for a more detailed study and creation of an implementation plan, and also also allows his inner futurologist to to come out in the last chapter where he envisions how these system changes will prepare the region to succeed in a longer-term future that will be transformed again and again by technological discovery and development.
Read at least the executive summary if you get the chance. And if you are interested in other imaginative proposals that have been put forward in the last year, check out a few of our previous posts:
As state legislative season wears on, here is an update on some of the efforts in other states to achieve greater financial and regulatory freedom for public higher education institutions facing another year of steep budget cuts.
- Virginia: The legislature passed the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011. For details on the major aims of this legislation, see our earlier post. The State Council of Higher Education for Virgina (SCHEV) provides an overview of how the final bill differs from the original bill, including, among other things, the addition of a goal to recognize the unique missions and contributions of different institutions.The Act now awaits the signature of the Governor, who proposed the initial bill.
- New York: The Legislature passed a budget that did not include provisions contained in the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act proposed by the SUNY system. The Act sought increased autonomy from state processes and freedom in managing institutional resources, especially in light of significant budget cuts since 2008. The state not only decided to include none of the flexibility measures, but hit the system with another $210 million in cuts. Having lost 30 percent of its state funding in three years, this huge network of over 60 campuses is determined to continue fighting to maintain access and quality.
- Wisconsin: The New Badger Partnership proposed by UW Madison continues to be controversial in Wisconsin. Feeling left behind by the proposal to ‘set free’ the flagship institution, the UW System Regents have endorsed their own proposal, the Wisconsin Idea Partnership, which includes freedoms and flexibilities for all system campuses. The Legislature will consider both proposals in the coming month.
- Oregon: University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere has made an agreement with Governor John Kitzhaber to put the University’s ‘New Partnership’ legislation on hold for a year in favor of supporting passage of the Governor’s legislation, which creates an independent public university system in place of treating each institution as a state agency. In exchange, the Governor has signaled an intention to support the University of Oregon’s New Partnership proposal for greater autonomy, including a new financing structure that replaces annual state operating support with a public endowment, in the 2012 Legislative session.
Note that the Washington State Legislature is also currently considering a number of proposals, both large and small, that might lead to regulatory relief and increased autonomy of varying types for the UW. Check out the bills that the UW ‘strongly supports’ and ‘supports’ in the BillTracker for more information on some of these bills.
US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined Governor Chris Gregoire and legislative leadership today for an education roundtable. Duncan congratulated state lawmakers on discussing the issue of education reform, even through tough budget times. He further drew attention to the grave problems troubling education in the United States—a 25% national dropout rate, poor STEM education, the large number of students taking remedial courses, and gaping budget gaps, which challenge the adequate funding of education.
Of particular interest, Duncan commented on the current system of education governance in Washington, claiming: “Washington has eight different agencies with different strategic plans working in Washington and it’s very difficult for me to understand how having different agencies handling education…will transform education.”
Governor Gregoire has bills in both chambers to consolidate education governance into one Department of Education headed by the Governor. The plan would also consolidate many existing state education agencies into four primary education divisions: Early Years Division, K-12 Division, Community College and Technical Education Division, and the University Programs Division. All units would report to a new Department of Education Secretary.
Secretary Duncan reiterated President Obama’s commitment to investing in education despite the economic downturn, and gave examples of strategic programs and innovations the administration is working towards:
-Investing in Early Learning programs like Head Start, which studies have shown to improve achievement especially for disadvantaged students who do not have many educational opportunities at home
-Continuing the Race to the Top program which rewards schools for outstanding innovation and improvement in education (if approved by Congress)
Lastly, Governor Gregoire distributed a document describing how much it costs taxpayers when students “fall through the cracks” of the education system– by dropping out, taking remedial courses, or repeating grades–a number her advisers estimate at around $ 100 million a year. Though the problems facing education in Washington state and in the nation are indeed grave, it was encouraging to see lawmakers pause during a critical week to discuss education. As Secretary Duncan asserted, “our children cannot wait for the economy to bounce back”—education must remain a priority, despite the dire budget situation.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report and recommendations, DOD Education Benefits: Increased Oversight of Tuition Assistance Program is Needed, ahead of another Senate hearing focused on the conduct of for-profit colleges, this time held by Senator Tom Carper.
The GAO report focused on the DOD Military Tuition Assistance Program, which provides tuition benefits for active duty soldiers. In 2009, the program provided $517 million in tuition assistance to over 375,000 service members of which for-profit institutions received a disproportionate amount. The report addressed two primary points:
- DOD oversight of schools receiving Tuition Assistance Program funds
- The extent to which DOD coordinates with accrediting agencies and the U.S. Department of Education in its oversight activities
The Senators discussed the gaps in oversight exposed by the report, and also discussed the fact that Tuition Assistance Program revenue is not included in the calculation to determine whether at least 10 percent of annual revenue comes from non-federal sources, which is required for an institution to be eligible to receive federal student aid. This is a rule that Senator Tom Harkin has specifically mentioned as a target for reform in earlier hearings he has held on for-profit institutions.
Meanwhile, the association that represents for-profit colleges is suing the US Department of Education in an attempt to block new federal regulations, and House Republicans included an amendment to block the controversial gainful employment rule from moving forward in their recently passed budget.
For past OPBlog posts on this continuing story see:
Earlier this month the Pathways to Prosperity Project, based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, released a final report: Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century.
The report lauds the current goal to increase college participation and attainment in the US, but cautions against a ‘one size fits all’ model of higher education. The authors note that the US currently has the highest college dropout rate in the industrialized world, and they call for a renewed focus on career oriented programs and occupational credentials for the large number of American youth who are not currently served or even ill-served by the traditional two or four-year academic system.
The report provides best practices from around the world, highlights robust programs across the US, and provides a blueprint for greater government and employer engagement in preparing American youth better by developing stronger links between education and employment. The report does not question the value or role of traditional higher education but instead wonders whether we are asking it to be all things to all people and thereby failing a large number of Americans as well as straining institutions.
The below are some of the non-Washington State higher education budget and policy stories that made the news this week:
- Arizona: Senate Bill 1115 was passed out of Appropriations Committee after midnight on Tuesday. The hastily considered bill surprised many and would effect dramatic change in Arizona higher education should it make its way to law, including replacing the current state funding to institutions with a voucher system that would provide an as yet unspecified amount of money directly to the student, abolishing the Arizona Board of Regents and creating individual governing boards at each institution, and allowing for the addition of more state institutions, including making ASU’s East Mesa campus a freestanding Polytechnic University. Committee chair and bill sponsor, Andy Biggs, said, “I’m trying to get at greater autonomy and greater stability and flexibility to the university heads by having their own boards of trustees.” The universities oppose this measure.
- Georgia: Budget pressures in Georgia make deep cuts and eligibility changes to the innovative HOPE Scholarship program likely. The current program is the most generous state financial aid program in the nation as it has no income caps and provides the full cost of an undergraduate degree at any public institution in Georgia for all students with a 3.0 or above high school gpa. Over one third of all resident students currently enrolled in Georgia public institutions benefit from the program.
- Ohio: Inside Higher Ed pondered the role politics played in the resignation of University System of Ohio Chancellor Eric Fingerhut more than a year before his term was up.
- Wisconsin: The revelation that Governor Walker was set to propose increased autonomy for UW Madison led to some fallout with the UW System Regents who support increased flexibility, but are troubled by the idea of separating UW Madison from the system. A special Regents meeting to discuss the proposal was called for today. In response, UW Madison produced a summary of the proposal and its anticipated effects to help quell opposition.
Also note that NYT reporter David Leonhardt published an interview with the authors of the recent book Why Does College Cost So Much?. We were pretty honored that Leonhardt recommended our summary of the book in the introduction of the piece!
Current protests in Wisconsin have dominated press coverage of Governor Scott Walker’s proposed 2011-13 state budget this week. Lost in the shuffle may have been news that the proposal contained a provision that would lead to greater autonomy for Wisconsin’s largest public institution of higher education, the University of Wisconsin at Madison. UW Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin has requested that the UW System Board of Regents not oppose the move, which she argues would be essential to protecting excellence and access for the state’s flagship campus.
Potential legislation based on the Governor’s proposal is expected to be introduced by Republicans and would be likely to include the following freedoms for UW Madison:
- Tuition setting authority and freedom to manage all funds
- Authority to implement institutional budget without System approval
- Ability to recruit, hire and retain employees outside of the state system
- New flexibility in purchasing
- Authority to handle its own building projects
The University has sought such freedoms from the state for years, and the article suggests that the chancellor has been working for over a year to craft the current proposal, which she calls the New Badger Partnership.
For more information about this topic, read our recent OPB brief on institutional autonomy and the varying degrees to which it currently exists at the UW Seattle and our Global Challenge State peers.
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