Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board announced Wednesday the launch of the Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Degree Program as a “low-cost alternative” to a college degree.

The program, which was developed by the board, South Texas College and Texas A&M University-Commerce, will take students three years to complete, at a total cost of $13,000 to $15,000.

Students in the program will complete the required 120 credit hours through a combination of online modules and face-to-face instruction. The first seven-week term of the program began in late January at South Texas College and A&M-Commerce.

“[We listened] to what national and regional employers are saying they really want: graduates with critical thinking skills who are quantitatively literate, can evaluate knowledge sources, understand diversity and benefit from a strong liberal arts and sciences background. This isn’t just another business degree,” Van Davis, director of innovations for the board, said in a statement.

System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the board did not approach the UT System to join the partnership that established the program.

According to UT-Austin spokesman Gary Susswein, the University does not have plans to pursue a low-cost degree program because it “would not be viable” considering the University’s rigorous academic plan.  

UT-Permian Basin currently offers a $10,000 bachelor of science four-year degree through its Texas Science Scholar Program, which it launched in May 2012, while UT-Arlington and UT-Brownsville offer similar programs, developed through partnerships with community colleges and school districts in their respective areas.

Several representative positions are available for student applicants until Friday for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the board’s committees, which influence public policy in Texas.

UT is looking to nominate five students for the non-voting student representative position and two students for each of the five advisory committees, according to Marilyn Russell, deputy advisor to Dean of Students. 

At each university, student government nominations are sent to the president, who then sends it to the governor. The governor will ultimately appoint the student representative. The advisory committee representatives are selected by the committee members. The student representative serves for one year, while the advisory committee representatives serve for two. 

Student Government President Horacio Villarreal said funding has increasingly become a priority as the state makes cuts to its budget. He said he would like to see student representatives speak on behalf of college students across the state to increase funding to higher education institutions.

“I know UT-Austin has been under a tight budget, as well as other public institutions across the state,” Villarreal said. “I think the student representatives to both the committee and the boards need to possess a strong will to increase funds for UT and other schools and translate that to the others on the coordinating board on behalf of the students.”

In addition to focusing on financial resources for the University, Villarreal said he hopes to see transparency from the student representatives surrounding policy making.

“I hope the student representatives are visible on campus so others can voice their opinions and wants, so they can relay those onto the appropriate people,” Villarreal said.

Texas A&M University student Alice Schneider, a current student representative, said her position has afforded her opportunities she would not have had otherwise.

“Being in this position allows me to have dialogues with presidents of community colleges [and] state senators on higher education committees [and] to hear different opinions,” Schneider said.

Schneider said being on the board and shaping public policy on higher education while being a student was a new experience.

“There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, policy-wise,” Schneider said. “There was a steep learning curve. In the legislative session this spring, I had no idea higher education policy-making was so intensive.”

Since the positions opened in 2008, Russell said seven UT students have served as representatives on advisory committees, but not one has served as the student representative on the board.

“We always want our students in leadership roles, and any representative from this institution would have access to this student body,” Russell said.

The application can be found online at the Dean of Students’ website and must be submitted to the Dean of Students office in the Student Activity Center 3.104 by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8.

Legislature gives higher education board direction on loans

Financial aid counselors might be able to advise students to take out a no interest, forgiveable loan in the future, which is currently forbidden under federal law. 

The Legislature's Sunset Advisory Commission, a body charged with assessing the need of state agencies, directed the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to seek a revision to federal law that prevents schools from advertising the state's B-On-Time Loan Program, according to a report released by the commission in July. Financial aid officials are currently only allowed to direct students to federal financial aid programs, not state.

The B-On-Time Loan program grants students a no interest loan that is forgiveable if they graduate in four years with at least a 3.0 GPA. Five percent of a student's tuition is used to fund the program, and the higher education board's preliminary estimates indicate the program will have $84 million in awards for fiscal years 2014-2015. UT-Austin students typically take out $7,400 per year under the program. 

One of the program's biggest problems is low student participation rates, according to a report by the Sunset Advisory Commission. At UT-San Antonio, for instance, $100,000 went unused in 2011 because students did not know about it, officials claim.

“We’re not allowed to advertise these funds due to restrictions on alternative lending,” said Lisa Blazer, associate vice president for UT-San Antonio’s Financial Aid and Enrollment Services. “They have to request it from us. That will explain why a small amount will not be spent.”

Follow Jody Serrano on Twitter @jodyserrano. 

Last Wednesday, Michael O’Donnell, associate vice chancellor of the UT System, testified before the Senate Higher Education Committee on SB 496, a bill by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. SB 496 would take the power of final approval for “capital projects” (large construction projects) from the hands of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and put it in the hands of the UT System Board of Regents. Yesterday, that bill passed the Texas Senate.

If SB 496, passes the House and becomes law, then the Board of Regents will have the authority to approve capital building projects across the UT System. On the surface, this shift of power is not dramatic. “Authorizing” a project is not the same as funding it, a task which will still fall to the Legislature, and, indirectly, to individual universities’ development teams, which must raise supplemental funds from donors. The bill won’t empower individual institutions to propose new building projects, as the regents already vet each institution’s list of proposed capital projects before they reach the THECB and Legislature. That is an arguably important step for the board to take, given the number of institutions in the UT System vying for funds.

Mostly, SB 496 is a bill that eliminates the bureaucratic redundancy of having to get building projects approved by the Board of Regents and then again by the THECB. But it just might empower the Board of Regents to make more deliberate choices about the way the UT System’s 16 campuses grow.

Also yesterday, the students of UT professor Larry Speck’s Architecture and Society class — this columnist included — took a test, which included an essay question asking students to discuss the ways a residential environment the student had lived in shaped their college experience.

The question was a way for students to demonstrate that they had done the reading and connected the principles they encountered to their everyday lives. But their answers may also be collected for research on the way students interact with their environment  — provided they signed the release passed out at the beginning of class.

Richie Gill, a Plan II senior, used responses to this test question from past semesters to identify how “socially successful” students were in a particular dorm. He also examined the effect of particular residential environments on student GPA. What did his holistic review of 12 of the 14 dorms on campus find?

The best dorm for a freshman student is — drum roll, please — the humble Moore-Hill, completed in 1956. Its rooms, at 190 sq. feet, are less than half the size of those in UT’s newest dormitory, Duren Hall, which was built in 2007. The less-than-luxurious quarters of Moore-Hill prompt students to leave their rooms and meet other Longhorns, while the wealth of amenities in Duren kept people from moving — literally and figuratively — out of their comfort zones, which Gill’s findings suggest affected not only their social lives but their GPAs as well. When Gill compared a student’s predicted GPA (based on a number of factors, including the student’s high school GPA and his or her parents’ level of education) with the GPA they actually achieved at UT, students in more social dorms had the most positive difference between their predicted and actual GPA. 

Of course, Gill’s project is just a senior thesis, not a fully-formed scientific study, and interpreting essay question answers is an inherently subjective process. But the results of the project, which are by no means conclusive, do suggest that we  should be more thoughtful about the buildings on our campus, as the designs of those buildings might affect student success. All of us — students, regents and UT administrators — care about the success of students on this campus. In the past decade, we’ve seen the expansion of the UT campus give us buildings like Duren, which is neither the most affordable nor the most effective dorm for bettering the student experience. Meanwhile the best dormitory for students on campus was completed in the mid-1950s.

So, since the regents may soon have more control over the type of buildings built on UT System campuses, they should demand buildings that make a difference in students’ lives. The University isn’t about to stop growing. We should make sure it grows in a direction beneficial to students. 

Wright is a Plan II junior from San Antonio.

Lawmakers attempt to limit UT System Board of Regents through budget measures

Texas lawmakers took steps Thursday to prevent the UT System Board of Regents from conducting another investigation into the UT Law School Foundation by prohibiting regents’ from spending money on the investigation.

Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee and serves on a joint committee to investigate regents’ governance methods, filed a series of amendment to limit the UT System’s spending power.

One amendment would prevent the System administration from using any of the $23.5 million in proposed state funds for the upcoming biennium to pay for investigations into individual institutions within the system and the administrations of those institutions. It would also prevent the System from spending to request open records from those institutions.

In 2011, President William Powers Jr. instructed Larry Sager, then dean of the School of Law and current faculty member, to resign as dean after Sager received a forgivable loan of $500,000 from the foundation. Last week, the regents voted 4-3 to conduct an additional external review of the foundation. The System would spend about $500,000 toward the investigation.

An internal audit of the foundation conducted by Barry Burgdorf, UT System general counsel who resigned earlier this month, found the loan was awarded inappropriately. The attorney general’s office largely concurred with the report’s findings.

The amendment would also require the System to submit an annual report to Gov. Rick Perry’s office and the Legislative Budget Board detailing the System’s investigations into individual institutions and their administrations. The System would have to list the intent of the investigation, evidence to justify conducting the investigation, the cost of the investigation and the findings of the investigation.

An additional amendment, co-filed with state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who also serves on the joint committee, would trust the System’s $23.5 million to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The coordinating board would transfer those funds back to the System pending approval from the Legislative Budget Board and Gov. Rick Perry’s office.

Another amendment would limit the System administration’s share of revenue from the Permanent University Fund, a state endowment that funds the UT and Texas A&M University Systems that typically funds infrastructure and construction projects. However, the amendment would allow UT to continue accessing the fund.

A final amendment prevents the System from paying for transportation and lodging of regents who have not been confirmed by the Senate.

The amendments follow a week of criticism by lawmakers over the regents’ decision to conduct the additional investigation.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday that if regents decided to conduct a “duplicative investigation,” they should use Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office to prevent spending additional tax dollars. A letter signed by 18 senators sent to board Chairman Gene Powell on Tuesday asked the board to seek the attorney general’s assistance if regents insisted on continuing what the senators called “an unnecessary probe.”

Powell responded in a letter Wednesday and said the board’s General Counsel Francie Frederick informed the attorney general’s office of the board’s possible actions prior to last week’s meeting. He said Frederick would brief Abbott and his first assistant Daniel Hodge if the board decided to investigate the foundation further.

Members of UT community: UT System Board of Regents' behavior harming UT

The UT System Board of Regents is engaging in behavior that could potentially diminish the reputation of its flagship institution, members of the UT community and Texas Exes told Texas lawmakers Wednesday.

Testifying to the Senate Higher Education Committee in favor of a bill that would limit the powers of university boards of regents statewide, Michael Morton, Senate of College Councils president, said the University has faced increased micromanagement from the board. The Senate of College Councils is a student legislative organization that focuses on academic issues at the University.

Morton said the board has interfered through extensive open records requests that have made it more difficult for the University to conduct its regular business and by continuing an investigation into the UT Law School Foundation’s relationship with UT. He said this climate is driving away potential faculty and administrators.

“I’ve seen our university lose and struggle to recruit top-notch faculty members and administrators because of the political turmoil between our system’s board of regents and our institutions,” Morton said. “I’ve seen our student and alumni networks join together to support our university and our president against attacks from the group that, by the Texas Education Code, is supposed to preserve institutional independence and enhance the public image of each institution under its governance. Our Board of Regents has failed to uphold both of those roles.”

The bill, filed by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo and committee chairman, is in response to ongoing tension between the regents and President William Powers Jr. It would amend state laws to allocate all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards to the individual institutions of that system. The committee took no action on the bill, but will take it up again next week.

The bill would also prohibit regents from voting on personnel and budgetary matters until they undergo ethics training offered annually by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Texas Exes CEO Leslie Cedar said an unnamed regent has repeatedly expressed displeasure through emails and phone calls with how the alumni association has openly supported Powers and criticized regents. Cedar said she does not believe regents’ scrutiny regarding the association’s contracts with the University result from that criticism.

“The role of the alumni association is to champion the University, and we support administrators who line up directly with the mission of the University, so we feel like it is our duty to speak up for and on behalf of the mission of the University,” Cedar said.

The testimony came a week after the regents voted 4-3 to conduct a new external review of the UT Law School Foundation’s relationship with UT as part of an ongoing investigation of the foundation. In 2011, Powers instructed Larry Sager, then dean of the School of Law and current faculty member, to resign as dean after Sager received a forgivable loan of $500,000 from the foundation.

An internal audit of the foundation conducted by Barry Burgdorf, UT System general counsel who resigned earlier this month, found the loan was conducted in an inappropriate manner. The Texas Attorney General’s Office largely concurred with the report’s findings.

A letter signed by 18 senators sent to board Chairman Gene Powell on Tuesday implored the board to seek the assistance of the Office of the Texas Attorney General if regents insisted on continuing what the senators called “an unnecessary probe.”

Powell responded in a letter Wednesday and said the board’s General Counsel Francie Frederick informed the attorney general’s office of the board’s possible actions prior to last week’s meeting. He said Frederick would brief Attorney General Greg Abbott and his first assistant Daniel Hodge if the board decided to investigate the foundation further.

“Please be assured that no decisions will be made on proceeding with this issue until this previously planned briefing of and discussion with the attorney general occurs,” Powell said.

Rep. John Otto speaks during the the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday morning. 

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Legislature could boost TEXAS Grant funding to historical levels if it follows recommendations unanimously approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

The committee approved adding $150 million for the TEXAS Grant Program to the Legislature’s preliminary budget proposals. The initial proposals would have allocated $559.5 million to the program for the 2014-15 biennium, the same amount approved during the previous legislative session for the 2012-13 session. 

Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton and chair of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that deals with higher education funding, said the increase would allow the program, which serves students whose expected family contribution to their cost of attendance is $4,000 or less, to serve more students statewide.

“This is not only the largest biennium-to-biennium increase ever in TEXAS Grants, it is also the highest total ever in the program, which should cover approximately 87 percent of all eligible students,” Otto said.

Raymund Paredes, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board commissioner, told Otto’s subcommittee in February that the TEXAS Grant Program would need $1.3 billion to fully fund all eligible applicants during the 2014-15 biennium. However, the coordinating board requested $719.6 million in state funds for the program during the 2014-15 biennium.

The funding levels recommended by the committee Thursday for TEXAS Grants fall short of that request. However, when $15 million in donations to the program are factored in, the total amount available to the program equals $724.5 million, exceeding the coordinating board’s request.

The program serves 8,449 students at UT. The Legislature allocated $50.7 million to eligible students during the 2012-13 biennium, according to the Office of Student Financial Services.

The committee also recommended increasing all formula funding to state higher education institutions by 3 percent. The state uses formulas that include enrollment and graduation rates among other factors to determine the state’s contribution to universities and colleges throughout the state.

Mary Knight, associate vice president and chief financial officer, said she does not know how the increase in formula funding will impact the University, but she doubts the increase will make up for past budget cuts.

Under preliminary proposals, the Texas House of Representatives would allocate $478.8 million in state general revenue funds to the University during the 2014-15 biennium, while the Senate would allocate $483.8 million over the biennium. Both of the initial proposals are $9 to $14 million less than the $492.5 million the Legislature allocated to UT in the last biennium.

“When we get the actual documents that show the appropriations by institution, we will know how we’ll be affected,” Knight said.

Published on March 8, 2013 as "TEXAS grant budget up for substantial increase". 

Members of the House Higher Education Committee listen as Raymund Paredes, commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, discusses the importance of improving the state’s higher educational system Wednesday.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

While Texas is currently on track to reach targets intended to improve higher education in the state, some hurdles remain.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is the state agency charged with overseeing Texas’ higher education policy. In 2000 the coordinating board enacted Closing The Gaps by 2015, a plan for Texas higher education institutions to reach measurable goals to put the state on par with the rest of the country. The goals include increasing enrollment, undergraduate degrees, federal research funds and the national reputation of Texas’ higher education institutions.

Board commissioner Raymund Paredes told the House Higher Education Committee on Wednesday that the state’s higher educational system is not improving at a fast enough rate.

“In terms of public higher education in Texas, we’re getting better, we’re not getting better fast enough,” Paredes said.

The state aimed to enroll an additional 630,000 students in higher education institutions by 2015. As of 2012, Texas higher education institutions had enrolled 540,546 more students than in 2000, according to Paredes’ presentation.

Paredes said this number was above the coordinating board’s target for 2012 but that growth of enrollment has slowed within the past few years. Paredes said the national discussion questioning the value of a college degree and a state law requiring students to receive bacterial meningitis vaccinations may deter potential students from enrolling.

According to Paredes, enrollment of Hispanic and African-American students in state higher education institutions have about doubled since 2000.

Part of the initiative is to increase research funding that Texas universities receive from the federal government. Paredes said the state currently receives 5.9 percent of the federal government’s university research fund budget — sixth behind Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and California — which is short of the 6.5 percent it hopes to reach. 

“We still have a long way to go to be where we want to be,” Paredes said.

Paredes said the state is on track to meet its goal of awarding 210,000 undergraduate degrees or more annually by 2015, as it has awarded 196,561 as of 2012.

“We can enroll as many students as we possibly can, but if they don’t complete their credentials we haven’t accomplished much,” Paredes said.

There were also large increases in minority student graduations, as Hispanic and African-American students received 149 percent and 92 percent more degrees than in 2000.

State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas and committee chairman, said Texas has the opportunity to take the lead in a national economy that has transitioned from an industrial economy to a knowledge-driven economy.

“Will Texas thrive in a knowledge economy the way that Pennsylvania and Michigan thrived during the industrial age … or will we fall back in a knowledge economy — as some of our sisters have that were once mighty economic engines but [are] now no longer?” Branch said.

Printed on Thursday, February 14, 2013 as: Hurdles remain for Higher ed 

Texas could expand access to a financial aid program that benefits thousands of low-income students at UT if it enacts recommendations passed down by the state’s higher education agency.

Raymund Paredes, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board commissioner, told a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday that the TEXAS Grant Program would need $1.3 billion to fully function during the 2014-15 biennium.

“Unless the Legislature is willing to make significant increase in the TEXAS Grant Program every session as demand continues to increase, this program is simply not sustainable in its current form,” Paredes said.

The program serves students whose expected family contribution to their cost of attendance is $4,000 or less, which constitute a large percentage of students graduating from public schools, Paredes said.

“Given that fact, the state simply can’t meet the escalating demand for financial aid under current program operational guidelines and funding levels,” Paredes said.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is asking the Texas Legislature to allocate $719.6 million to the TEXAS Grant Program for the 2014-15 biennium. That amount is about $145 million more than the amount the program would have if the Legislature approved current proposals and $580.4 million less than what Paredes said it would take to fund the program properly.

Additional funds would allow the board to serve a greater percentage of incoming freshmen who are eligible for the grant, according to data provided by the coordinating board.

Current House and Senate proposals allocate $559.5 million to the program for the 2014-15 biennium, the same amount approved during the previous legislative session for the 2012-13 session.  The board also uses about $15 million in donations to fund the program, bringing the total funds available for the program to $574.5 million.

The coordinating board is also asking the Legislature to reduce the maximum amount of individual awards from $7,700 to $5,000 for university students and from $2,640 to $1,325 for community college students.

Fred Heldenfels, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board chairman, said traditional college-age workers have fewer degrees than workers approaching retirement. Heldenfels said the state must encourage younger workers to obtain degrees, partially by reforming how the state distributes financial aid.

“Texas must significantly increase the education and skills of these workers or risk decades of declining competitiveness,” Heldenfels said.

This system only allows the program to give grants to 22 percent of eligible incoming freshmen, according to data provided by the coordinating board. If the Legislature enacted the board’s recommendations, the program could allocate grants to 90 percent of eligible incoming freshmen.

According to the 2011 budget passed by the Legislature, the 2012-13 allocation aimed to serve an estimated 60,114 students in 2012 and 49,907 in 2013. The proposed allocation for the 2014-15 biennium would serve an estimated 77,615 students in 2014 and 85,965 in 2015.

The Legislature allocated $50.7 million to 8,449 students at UT eligible for the grant during the 2012-13 biennium, according to information provided by the Office of Student Financial Services. During the 2010-11 biennium, 7,653 UT students received grants out of the $59.4 million allocated by the Legislature to the University.

State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, said the state must consider rising tuition costs when discussing how to offset the cost of attendance and how to encourage students to graduate within the time allotted by their degree plan.

“In some cases,” Giddings said, “it appears that we may be locking out those very people, I think, who would make the biggest difference in terms of our society.”

A bill filed for the upcoming legislative session could standardize the process for students transferring between Texas colleges and universities.

The bill, filed by state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, would create a statewide transfer compact program between institutions of higher education to facilitate the process of transferring coursework to count toward a degree.

Currently, institutions maintain specific transfer agreements that are not uniform across the state.

Two years ago, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees the state’s higher education institutions, launched the Tuning Texas project, a similar initiative. Tuning Texas is a voluntary transfer compact program between some community colleges and universities.

Similar to Branch’s proposal, the project designates universal courses framed around objectives identified by faculty from universities and community colleges. The compact requires participating institutions to apply all courses designated by the compact toward a student’s degree.

Branch’s bill would implement these statewide transfer compacts as mandatory for all institutions and require the development of transfer compacts for all other majors by May 31, 2014.
THECB spokesperson Dominic Chavez said it has been difficult to get all universities to sign off on standardized compact agreements — a debate that could occur during the legislative session.

“Ultimately, the only way this is going to work is if everyone plays ball,” Chavez said. “[The coordinating board is] not mandating that all institutions participate in the compact nor will they be required to accept all transfer students into that degree program. Universities can still have very high admission standards.”

Tuning Texas has developed transfer information for four engineering degrees and four science degrees.

UT-Austin did not opt into the program.

Chavez said this time line is unrealistic and will have to be discussed between the Legislature and the board.

According to data obtained from the Office of Admissions, 2,440 students transferred to the University in 2012 — 61 percent from four-year colleges and 38 percent from junior colleges.

Almost half of last year’s transfer students began their undergraduate degree at UT-San Antonio, Austin Community College or UT-Arlington.

Linda Young, special assistant to the president for external affairs at ACC, said UT-Austin has worked to ease burdens for ACC students transferring to the University and that state compact agreements would help make the process more efficient.

“I can’t imagine it would be more efficient than if such an agreement would be in place,” Young said. “It would also be more effective for institutions that share students — where students transfer from one to another.”

Young said students do raise concerns about the lack of a uniform naming system and often have to make sure definitions are accurate and appropriate for the equivalent course at another institution.

Students looking to transfer to UT-Austin can use the University’s Automated Transfer Equivalency database to search for transfer credit evaluations for more than 292,000 courses at other institutions in Texas.

Most majors do not require transfer applicants to complete specific transferable courses, according to UT’s Office of Admissions.

At UT-Austin, business, engineering, geosciences and natural sciences majors are required to transfer specific versions of calculus courses. The McCombs School of Business also requires students to submit proof of credit or in-progress work in microeconomics and macroeconomics.

Biology junior Farhan Sahawneh, a student mentor for the Transfer Student Association, said several pre-med members of the association faced challenges when they tried to transfer science courses and supported the idea of state standardized transfer agreements.

Sahawneh said out-of-state transfer students would still face challenges.

“For someone who takes community college courses outside the state, the courses have to be evaluated by a panel, and that’s usually where most of the disappointment of our members comes from,” Sahawneh said. “Most students don’t know if their coursework will transfer beforehand, and most don’t know until they apply to UT.”