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April 11, 2000     (512) 463-0300
Photo: Senator Royce West questions a witness
Senator Royce West , member of the The Special Commission on 21st Century Colleges and Universities, questions a witness during Tuesday's meeting.

Special Commission on 21st. Century Colleges and Universities held public hearing in Austin

AUSTIN - The Special Commission on 21st Century Colleges and Universities held a public hearing Tuesday, April 11, 2000, in the Senate Chambers at the State Capitol. The commission was appointed by Lt. Governor Rick Perry to study issues facing Texas' institutions of higher education.

Today the commission focused on higher education funding. Kent Caruthers, consultant of MGT of America Inc., of Tallahassee, Florida, provided testimony relative to national perspectives of funding. He said most of the states in the nation are major players in financing institutions of higher learning, agreeing with Lt. Governor Perry when he said that "higher education is the key to a state's prosperity." The states' governments fund this advanced education in three main ways - through public colleges and universities, independent colleges and universities, and student financial aid.

Caruthers told the commission that Texas, like most states in the country, use three different strategies for funding public colleges and universities. The first one is the use of formulas or guidelines. For example, the relationship between the numbers of students and the resources required to teach them gives a funding rate. These formulas are not precise, but are based on the best estimate. The second strategy, called incremental funding, takes the last funding rate and actualizes it based on inflation. The third strategy is a targeted approach, or funding for one-of-a-kind institutions.

Formulas are used to allocate funding among particular institutions. They are used because they justify needs based on educational standards and best practices, they ensure equity in allocations and minimize political influence and they document policy decisions and avoid the need of an annual debate.

Formulas or guidelines are used by about 30 states in the country. The entire southeast of the United States, Texas included, uses formulas, due to the fact that these states have many public schools and this strategy simplifies funding. It also provides incentives to enroll more students, since the funding is based on quantity.

In his testimony, Caruthers also informed the commission members and public that Texas uses different formulas for the funding of community colleges, four-year universities and health institutions. Guidelines are varied, not always consistent, and have hidden rules, where institutions that have a drop in enrollment may not then have their funding cut. Besides number of students and hours taken, many other factors are considered. Teachers' salary and experience is important as well. A tenured professor teaching a class will bring in more funding than will a graduate student. This promotes the use of experienced faculty in the classrooms. Subjects taught are also considered, with graduate engineering being more costly than freshman English. The institution's research, public service, libraries, student services, institutional support and operation and maintenance of the installation are all considered.

Caruthers also answered the many questions posed by committee members. He mentioned that a formula for funding distance learning has not been created yet, probably because the amount of students and funds is still so small. These numbers will probably increase soon, with the expanding opportunities to take more and more courses online.

Remedial courses, on the other hand, are funded by a formula. Texas has experienced a dramatic increase in these. Caruthers insisted on the importance of remedial or developmental courses, saying that even a mathematical genius might need help with speech.

A prevalent concern among the participants in today's hearing was to find a way of funding that would promote institutional change of behavior. This could mean incentives for teacher training, for example, since the state suffers a great shortage in this profession. Other concerns are whether the emphasis is on quantity or quality, the inability to recognize that different institutions have different missions, and that fixed formulas may perpetuate past inequities.

Committee member Senator Bill Ratliff, President of the Education Committee, said that even if states subsidize higher education, sometimes the funding is only 20%, a minimum percentage of the total funds. So states really can't do much to influence schools based on this funding. He also briefly reviewed the funding system of different learning institutions. Community colleges are funded through formulas, with the state paying 70% of academic costs. Formulas for health institutions are based on the number of people trained. Four year institutions, sometimes called "academics" are funded at 76% by formulas, 14% by reimbursement of expenses, and 10% by special items. The formulas take into account the academics, such as hours taken and teaching experience, and the infrastructure, which encourages better use of installations instead of construction of new ones.

Senator West inquired about the possibility of taking into account the inclusion and diversification of a school, not only in terms of the student body, but the faculty as well. He understands that this could be difficult in places like the Rio Grande Valley, where the populationis 85 percent Hispanic, but that inclusion should be encouraged as much as possible. He says that this should be done by taking into account not only ethnic groups, but economic levels as well.

Senator Truan told the commission that it is important to "spread the wealth among universities and institutions," and not concentrate the state wealth in certain places, to the disadvantage of others.

Senator Bivins disagreed, saying that the state should keep concentrating on excellence and the flagship institutions that provide that excellence.

The Chair of the Commission is Jim Adams of San Antonio. The members are: Kirbyjon H. Caldwell of Houston, James Hooton of Houston, Betsy Goebel Jones of Lubbock Margarita Diaz Kintz of Austin, Nancy Cain Marcus of Dallas, Jeff Sandefer of Austin, Elaine Mendoza of San Antonio, Karen L. Shewbart of Lake Jackson, Danny Vickers of El Paso, Tony Garza, Railroad Commissioner, of Austin. Participating members of the Senate are: Senators Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi, Bill Ratliff of Mt. Pleasant, Teel Bivins of Amarillo and Royce West of Dallas.

Based on Lt. Governor Perry's charges, the commission is studying issues related to institutions of higher education and their role in contributing to the human capital needed for the State of Texas to be a leader in the new economy of the 21st Century. These issues include:

The commission recessed subject to call of the chair. It's next meeting is May 9th in Nacogdoches.

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