US, Texas officials take wide range of stances on higher education

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Gov. Rick Perry, Pres. Barack Obama and former Pres. George W. Bush have each made a mark on higher education in Texas. The former and current president each holds his own opinions on how to shape universities. Potential presidential hopeful Perry is expected to announce his candidacy in the next month, in the midst of growing controversy about his perspective on higher education and funding. The Daily Texan takes a look at the three politicians’ impacts on higher education.

Gov. Rick Perry
In an address made earlier this year, the potential presidential hopeful said he will push three big initiatives for higher education: creating a $10,000 bachelors degree, a statewide tuition freeze and an outcome-based funding system, in which the state would take 10 percent of its funding for higher education and redistribute it to universities with the highest graduation rates.

Controversy has stemmed from Perry’s conversations with Jeff Sandefer of the Texas Public Policy Foundation regarding the future of Texas higher education because both men have tried to push the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions for Higher Education” on state university boards of regents.

According to various emails acquired though the Texas Public Information Act, Perry has personally urged regents to adopt Sandefer’s solutions, which try to change higher education in the state by separating research from university funding.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, created the Texas Joint Committee for Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency to address the controversy, discuss higher education policy decisions transparently and to protect the excellence and high quality of Texas universities.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, UT alumna and co-committee chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee told the Texan in June that members would examine the direction of the state funding for higher education in Texas and will try to keep funding research at the University level.

“The problem with what [Perry and Sandefer] were trying to do was the process in which they were trying to do it,” Zaffirini said. “They were trying to impact higher education behind closed doors, but change must be made as a result of thoughtful collaboration.”

Pres. Barack Obama
Pres. Barack Obama has proposed various higher education issues to be addressed throughout his presidency, and has made a goal for the U.S. to have the highest proportion of students graduating from college in the world by 2020.

Critics claim Obama’s goal is unrealistic. Justin Hamilton, spokesman for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, said in a statement that the administration has a tremendous amount of work ahead of them to achieve the 2020 goal.

Obama spoke at UT last fall and said higher education was an issue he planned to treat as an economic stimulus because nearly eight in 10 new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education by the end of this decade.

“It’s an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who’ve never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have gone to college,” Obama said in the speech. “Education is an economic issue when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that countries that out-educate us today, they will out-compete us tomorrow.”

In order to achieve the goal, Obama originally planned to invest $12 billion into community colleges, but the money was mostly siphoned off to get the national health care bill passed, retaining $2 billion pledged for career training programs at colleges and universities.

Obama said all Americans should prepare themselves effectively to get a job by enrolling in at least one year of higher education or job training. Obama still hopes to increase higher education access and success by restructuring expanding college financial aid, while making federal programs simpler and more effective for students.

Pres. George W. Bush
Although Bush was considered the Education President, his efforts in helping higher education develop were limited after focusing most of his energy on improving K-12 education with his No Child Left Behind Act.

Bush never made higher education a significant part of his budget, but the keynote for Bush’s higher education agenda was reforming Pell Grants to address the growing number of independent students who depend on need-based funding for higher education.

In 2005, Bush’s Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the formation of one of Bush’s biggest higher education initiatives, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

The commission was formed to act as a natural extension of the No Child Left Behind program, with the goal of preparing high school students for post-secondary schooling and for the twenty-first century workplace.

Printed on 07/18/2011 as: Top officials show differing standpoints on higher ed