Higher ed leaders say UT benefited from Texas’s 86th Legislature

ANH NGUYEN, Staff

Texas lawmakers passed a whopping $250.7 billion two-year budget over the weekend — up 15.7% from the two-year spending plan approved two years ago. State higher education officials responded with a cheer.

The most recent state legislative session was a success for public higher education, a pair of higher education leaders wrote in an op-ed in the Texas Tribune.

According to Kevin Eltife, chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, and James B. Milliken, chancellor of the University of Texas System, increases in formula funding provided a stable base of state support essential for public universities to plan for and serve the increasing numbers of Texans seeking high quality education. This is certainly true for UT institutions with a combined enrollment of 240,000, an increase of more than 26,000 students over the last five years. Eltife and Milliken wrote that they greatly appreciated the increased support for Texas’ eight academic and six health institutions — as should all Texans.

In addition to formula funding, the Legislature provided key support for universities in three principal areas of focus — education, research and health care.

As Texas continues to grow, and the need for education beyond high school continues unabated, all education sectors (K-12, community colleges and universities), Eltife and Milliken urged, must be partners. An important advance in this partnership was the passage of Senate Bill 25, which will eliminate friction and expense in the transfer from community college to four-year institutions. The state also addressed important issues regarding free speech and sexual assault on campuses, and Texans are preparing to implement any required changes at their institutions.

The Legislature’s support for research as a driver of innovation and economic development was well demonstrated this session, as research funding for institutions across the state increased by more than $35 million compared to the last biennium — great news for UT Austin, our four emerging research institutions, and the state of Texas. Texas’ leadership in research got an additional boost with an increase in the Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI), which in the last few years has attracted world-class researchers to our state. While other states have been retreating in research support, Texas charges forward with GURI with a $40 million investment in our future.

UT institutions award nearly two-thirds of the state’s health professional degrees, train seven of every ten medical residents, and care for millions of patients each year. The health of Texans and the strength of UT health institutions could not be more tightly coupled, and the elected leaders demonstrated their commitment to that partnership. Voters will consider a constitutional amendment that would reauthorize and provide $3 billion in new funds to the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), which for years has been an extraordinary boon to cancer research and treatment in Texas.

It’s no accident that the leading cancer center in the world, UT MD Anderson, is in Texas, and CPRIT has been a big part of the state’s success, the writers contend.

The state’s leadership also made mental health a high priority this session, and the result was a bill that included provisions to create a child mental health consortium in which UT health institutions will be deeply involved. Finally, the Legislature further reflected Texas’s leadership in cancer prevention by raising the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21.

It’s hard to believe this all got done in 140 days, the UT officials wrote. But despite the breakneck pace, time and again Eltife and Milliken were struck by the positive, collegial tone, and the collaborative approach of their elected officials, civic and business leaders, university presidents — everyone who believes in higher education and shares a strong commitment to the future of Texas. Once again, the rest of the country could learn a lot from the Lone Star State.

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