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October 27, 1999     (512) 463-0300
Special Commission on 21st Century Colleges and Universities
The Special Commission on 21st Century Colleges and Universities held their first public hearing Wednesday, October 27, in the Senate Chamber. The commission was appointed by Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry to study institutions of higher education and their role in preparing Texas for the 21st century.

SPECIAL COMMISSION ON 21ST CENTURY COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES MET TODAY

AUSTIN - The Special Commission on 21st Century Colleges and Universities held their first public hearing Wednesday, October 27, 1999, in the Senate Chamber. The hearing opened with an address by Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry. Perry established the group with the charge to study 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. Perry stated that there are 140 public and private higher education institutions in our state, yet only one in five Texans holds a bachelors or graduate degree. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texans who receive an undergraduate degree will earn, on average, $1.2 million more over their lifetime than Texas high school graduates who do not pursue a college degree, demonstrating the important role played by higher education in determining the prosperity of our citizens. Perry asked the commission to try to solve the problem, working with colleges and universities, government agencies, and the private sector. Perry spoke about the importance of technological education in the preparation of the work force, and the need to increase minority enrollment and graduation rates to attain an inclusive education. Perry directed the group to ask the hard questions and challenge the status quo when it comes to higer education.

The commission is chaired by Jim Adams of San Antonio, and its members include Kirbyjon H. Caldwell of Houston, Betsy Goebel Jones of Lubbock, Margarita Diaz Kintz of Austin, R. Steve Ledbetter of Houston, 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, Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza of Austin, and Senators Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi, Bill Ratliff of Mt. Pleasant, Teel Bivins of Amarillo, and Royce West of Dallas.

Don Brown, Commissioner of the Higher Education Coordinating Board, gave a presentation describing the present situation of higher education in Texas, including predictions for the future. The following are some of the main points and figures of the information:

Members voiced their views and comments, raising more questions and issues to discuss in future meetings with the intention of finding solutions to these problems. Several members expressed their concerns about the huge gap in the level of education between Anglo and minority populations. One of the causes mentioned is the disparity in the funding of flagship universities and those institutions in under served regions like the Rio Grande Valley. This border region offers few opportunities for students who want to pursue an graduate education. Most funding goes to the University of Texas at Austin, and universities in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex and Houston, therefore attracting more businesses at the same time.

Members pointed out there is a need to increase the overall number of higher education graduates, and not concentrate only on minorities. Texas has a supply problem and has to rely on other countries like India, which has a large supply of highly prepared graduates. Texas has one of the lowest percentages of high school students continuing their education (48th in the nation), and one of the lowest rates of funding for higher education. The group not only mentioned the need of raising these rates, but also the quality of the education they receive.

Other issues discussed were how to establish a funding formula to assure a continuity of funds and spending for all types of institutions; the need of more scholarships, specially for minorities and low income students; how demographic increase will affect education; the use of technology; and distant learning.

San Antonio was proposed as meeting place for the next public hearing, at a date to be announced. The commission plans to hold hearings throughout the state. A report of the committees findings will be prepared by Novermber1, 2000 for distribution to the 77th Legislature which will convene in January 2001.

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SENATE COMMITTEE ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE MET AT THE STATE CAPITOL

AUSTIN - The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice held its first interim public hearing today, Wednesday, October 27, 1999 in the Capitol Extension. Members of the committee include Senators Ken Armbrister of Victoria, serving as chair, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, serving as vice chair, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Mike Jackson of Lake Jackson, John Whitmire of Houston, Royce West of Dallas, and Florence Shapiro of Plano.

Armbrister read the charges to the committee by Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry. In this first hearing, members concentrated on the first one. This charge asks to "determine if 'cold crime' investigations, especially of violent crimes, conducted by specially trained personnel should be augmented with additional resources and personnel within the Department of Public Safety." Cold crimes are those serious offenses, like homicides and rape, that remain unsolved after one year.

Bruce Castillo, Chief of the Texas Rangers in Austin, provided testimony related to the charge. Castillo told the members about the need to create a state-wide cold case squad to investigate the most serious of these crimes. He predicts the total cost of the unit would be between $3 and $3.5 millions, and requested members to provide the funding. Castillo exemplified the need for the squad, stating that only 71% of the 23,300 murders occurred nationally in the last 11 years have been solved. He introduced the committee to Ben Torres, whose 68-year-old mother was murdered by a stranger. After what he called a 'sloppy investigation that failed to solve the crime in six years, Torres succeed in getting the collaboration of different law enforcement agencies. Working together, the case was finally closed. As a victim, he told the members about the importance of a squad dedicated exclusively to solving cold crimes.

The committee plans a series of public hearings beginning in January of 2000. Members will submit its findings in the form of a report to be presented to the 77th Legislature which will convene in January of 2001.

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