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Senate Budget Slams Texas’s Colleges and Universities

Upper chamber’s version of the budget would slice $219 million from higher education.

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Photograph by Bob Daemmrich

Someday in the future, it’s possible that the doctor you might want to repair your heart or deliver your baby or just simply tell you to live a healthier lifestyle may not be there, because the young man or woman who was eager to become a doctor never got that opportunity. Because of state budget cuts offered by the Texas Senate, at least one state medical school already has closed its doors to about fifty potential members of the class of 2021. Such is the impact that proposed budget reductions could have on Texas’s colleges and universities.

“We are committed to work closely with the state legislature, and while we will not know the final outcome before the end of the regular session on Mary 29, 2017, we must prepared today, based on the current budget proposals,” wrote Carrie L. Byington, vice chancellor for health services at Texas A&M University in a letter to the students. “In years past, your position on the alternate list for the Texas A&M College of Medicine would be associated with a high likelihood of joining the 2021 class. Unfortunately, because of the proposed budget cuts, we are forced to suspend offers of class placements to those on our alternative list at this time.”

For most people, the state budget probably feels like a distant and arcane affair with little direct impact on their lives. With almost a third of the budget going to services for the poor, the middle class may feel even less invested in how the Legislature spends state tax dollars. But as we pointed out earlier this year, if you have high property taxes, it is probably because of how state lawmakers handle public education funding.

State spending on high education also can impact the lives of people in the middle class. Budget proposals would make substantial cuts in higher education spending—cuts that might determine how many freshmen get into the University of Texas or Texas A&M next year, and potentially whether their tuition goes up. The budgets also might mean cuts to the kind of research that draws world-renowned academics to Texas campuses and paves the way for cancer cures and more efficient car batteries, among much more.

Depending on how you count it, the state is somewhere between $4 billion and $8 billion short of paying for state services overall with state tax and fee revenue. The lower number is how short the state is to matching the existing budget, and the higher number is what it would cost to cover the existing budget plus growth in population and inflation.

To balance its version of the budget, the Texas Senate is cutting current spending on higher education by about $219 million, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. High education has traditionally had line items that spent specific money to certain programs. The Senate this year eliminated those line items and rolled everything into the general funding for the state universities. In its rob Peter to rob Paul budget, the Senate’s elimination of the line items would cut $570 million from state spending. But the Senate tried to make up for it by putting $300 million into the general funding formula for all universities. Of course, it doesn’t take a math whiz to see that $300 million doesn’t equal $570 million. Overall, this shell game will result in cuts of between 6 and 10 percent to individual universities. However, there is a disproportionate impact that hits campuses with fast-growing student populations the hardest. A few numbers on the funding that is lost under the Senate budget because of the change in accounting:

Texas A&M University, $75.6 million

Texas A&M University at Galveston, $3 million

University of Texas at Arlington, $15 million

University of Texas at Dallas, $8.5 million

University of Texas at San Antonio, $4.3 million

University of North Texas at Denton, $6.5 million

University of Houston Downtown, $3 million

Tarelton State University, $3.4 million

Texas State University at San Marcos, $13.2 million

Sam Houston State University at Huntsville, $3.7 million

Sul Ross State University Rio Grande College, $1.3 million

All told, general academic institutions will receive $141 million less under the Senate’s funding formula than they would under the currently existing budget. For instance, Texas A&M will lose $29 million in funding. Prairie View A&M University will face a 10-percent cut, or $5.5 million. U.T. Austin is another campus facing a 10-percent cut, for a loss of $48 million.

“We understand that the state is in a tight place but I would stress that we have done our very best to use state resources efficiently and effectively on behalf of the young people of the state while keeping tuition among the lowest, and the administrative overhead by far the lowest (3.6 percent) of any university in the state and maybe the nation,” said Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young in a statement. “Further cuts to our budget will reduce the number of students that we can serve as well as the number of world-class researchers we attract who are making significant contributions to the diversification and dynamism of the state’s economy.”

One local university recently told the San Antonio Express-News that even small cuts can be devastating. “We may never recover from this,” said Bill Spindle, chief financial officer for Texas A&M University-San Antonio, if the budget cuts stand. “The long-term effect of this for us is we’ll have to reduce the size of the university, and it won’t be able to serve all the students we hope to serve.” Overall, UTSA would receive $146.25 million in state funding, compared with the current $155.59 million. “At this time, I don’t really know” what the university would do if the Senate spending plan for higher education remains, said Kathryn Funk-Baxter, UTSA’s vice president for business affairs. “We have put together some contingency plans, and we would really have to study that situation.”

The Texas Exes put out a warning to alumni: “Additionally, the Senate proposal leaves the new Dell Medical School entirely unsupported, with zero funding in the proposed state budget. No other public medical school is treated this way … All the above amounts to a continued systematic divestment in public higher education. University like our flagship are struggling to educate the future workforce of Texas—future teachers, doctors, architects, engineers, programmers, and more.”

The House spent hours debating its budget on Thursday. There are higher education cuts in the House budget too, but they are much more modest than those in the Senate—the total cut in general tax revenue funding of $33.2 million.

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    The cuts in overall funding are just part of the Senate’s attack on higher education……to understand the real impact you have to add in the underfunding and the cutting of financial aid to students. I thought that the attack on the whole concept of higher education that we saw under Gov Perry and his appointees to the UT and A&M regents, etc. had been rebuffed…but the effort seems to have been more than adopted by Lt. Gov. Patrick.

    • Jed

      correct. your first clue was all the talk about vocational tracks in high schools a few years back.

      BUT, don’t forget they also cap tuition while they reduce funding. so not only is “public” higher education reserved for the upper classes, the schools are getting worse all the time.

      • WUSRPH

        And now they are talking about letting Junior Colleges some of whose faculties are, to be polite, are not held to the same standards of those at senior colleges. offer BAs. The degree is going to be worth less and less in terms of real value…..i.e.—the quality of the education it represents and the critical thinking skills of its recipient.

        • Jed

          “Junior Colleges some of whose faculties are, to be polite, not held to the same standards of those at senior colleges … ”

          are you sure? hint: there are no teaching standards at any college. whether faculty also author lots of government funded research may not be the bets indicator of whether they would provide a good undergraduate education.

          as long as the *students* are held to the same standards (i.e. liberal arts education), i am fine with this. you can’t double the number of bachelors’ degrees you give without expanding access.

          • WUSRPH

            There is the question of the academic credentials of the faculty……senior colleges get to pick the cream of the crop……plus the educational environment. Junior colleges are intended to be sources of advanced practical vocational-technical education .

          • St. Anger

            Incorrect. Take a look at the blinn college website, for example.

            They offer AA degrees in liberal arts, philosophy, etc.

            As for academic credentials, where do you draw the line? Is it necessary that ones bachelors degree be taught only by faculty that got phds at Harvard? Is yale ok? What about UT? A&m?

            Care to guess where UT phds get professor jobs?

          • WUSRPH

            I would guess with the gutting of higher education in most field, most UT PhDs wind up at the equivalent of junior colleges or as non-tenured instructors at UT or some other school….But the best and the brightest still have a chance at a post at a superior senior college.

            I recognize that junior colleges (they prefer “community colleges”) offer AAs in other than tech-vocational fields….but a two-year degree in those fields in no way could compare with the rigor of a full BA. Most BAs don’t get to the serious stuff until they last two years anyway. As a professor friend of mine at UT explained it once—–during the first two years all they are trying to do is separate the chaff from the wheat to get the classes down to a teachable size. Real teaching/learning and thinking is limited to the last two years.

            As to where a professor has to come from……Of course assuming that the goal is to provide the best possible education (which today is sometimes questionable) I would prefer that our full university staff be from rigorous demanding programs and that includes the assistant profs and even those not on the tenure track. That does not mean they all have to be from the top 10 or 20 schools as a great scholar/teacher may also be produced by a lesser school…..but the odds are that the best come from the best schools.

    • SpiritofPearl

      “Brave New World” . . . only alphas go to university.

      • anonyfool

        Don’t forget the other big part of Brave New World, they all get soma, and after they get high on soma, veg out on entertainment vids with all the celebs.

        • SpiritofPearl

          Soma and Malthusian belts . . .

          • anonyfool

            but the freemartins don’t need the belts – orgy porgy for everybody!

          • SpiritofPearl

            I forgot that part.

      • Suzannersteadman

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  • José

    That’s good news for the medical school at Guadalajara. ¡Gracias, Texas Lege!

    • Maryjrobinson

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  • John Bernard Books

    Back to normalcy as the US Senate confirms SCOTUS Justice Gorsuch.

  • John Bernard Books

    The San Antonio voters rejected Julian Castro in 2005 but that didn’t stop Obama from handing him the keys to HUD to plunder….
    “In one of his first acts as HUD Secretary, Carson ordered an audit of the agency. What he found was staggering: $520 billion in bookkeeping errors.
    “The total amounts of errors corrected in HUD’s notes and consolidated financial statements were $516.4 billion and $3.4 billion, respectively,” the auditors wrote.
    But there were plenty of other problems, too.
    There were several other unresolved audit matters, which restricted our ability to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to express an opinion. These unresolved audit matters relate to (1) the Office of General Counsel’s refusal to sign the management representation letter, (2) HUD’s improper use of cumulative and first-in, first-out budgetary accounting methods of disbursing community planning and development program funds, (3) the $4.2 billion in nonpooled loan assets from Ginnie Mae’s stand-alone financial statements that we could not audit due to inadequate support, (4) the improper accounting for certain HUD assets and liabilities, and (5) material differences between HUD’s subledger and general ledger accounts. This audit report contains 11 material weaknesses, 7 significant deficiencies, and 5 instances of noncompliance with applicable laws and regulations.”

    One has to wonder how a dem expects to get elected to anything…..

  • BCinBCS

    I guess that the failure of these same policies in Kansas, Louisiana and Wisconsin was not lesson enough for the Texas legislature.

  • waynus siez

    Have you seen the NEW G..D#*! stadiums at these places??? The THE DEBT piled on students???…For the love of Sam Houston let the University’s figure out some of this. They should be prioritizing parts of their budget with restraint and that is not a bad thing. The more money WE give to public universities the MORE IT COSTS to attend them! How in the depths of Hades did this formula ever make its way into the minds of academia?

    • WUSRPH

      It has cost more because, in fact, the State has been giving them LESS MONEY for years….The result is that they had to raise tuition and fees.

      • Kozmo

        The Athletic depts. at places like UT-Austin seem to be run as private fiefdoms anyway, with their huge profits and sweetheart licensing deals seldom trickling into the general school coffers. Typical of the state’s priorities that colleges have huge sports arenas and facilities while academics go begging and non-tenured teachers live hand-to mouth existences and students are asked to pay ever-increasing bills.

  • Good move and the best way to go forward is to cut salaries for liberal arts and humanities faculty…and make positions adjunct as well.

    • BCinBCS

      Ah hell Guillermo (and Mark), the best move would be to shut them down totally and spend the money on community colleges that can train workers to do auto mechanics, plumbing and nursing. Who needs an educated populace in these times?

    • Jed

      that’s already done. 15 years ago.

      next …