Tier one universities to increase in Texas

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A state like Texas should have more tier one universities, higher standards in terms of student performance and a more efficient higher education system to properly educate its growing population, said Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who spoke at UT on Thursday. Branch, former chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education, said the 82nd Legislature will face an unprecedented budget crunch this session, which could impact higher education. The 82nd session will increase the number of tier one universities in Texas, he said. The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Rice University and the University of Houston are the states’ only tier one universities, while the state of California has nine and the state of New York has seven. While no standard definition of a tier one school exists, common qualities among these schools mostly include a focus on influential research among its faculty, world-class institutions and multi-billion dollar endowment funds. Improving performance at schools like Texas Tech University, the University of North Texas and the University of Houston to include them in the tier one ranks is a goal, Branch said. “We have got to do a better job of presenting to people that universities are job manufacturing machines,” he said. “This university is a brilliant place of human capital with knowledge and technology just spinning off of it. I think pretty soon we’re going to be competing with China and India, other states and countries, and we’re going to do well.” In January, the Legislative Budget Board released a proposal that included a $1.7 billion cut to higher education. Branch said he hopes to cut costs by encouraging online classes, requiring students to file degree plans after taking a minimum number of course hours and making adjustments to how the TEXAS Grant is awarded. Branch also authored bills that would make textbooks tax-free and add rules for when teachers have to post their required books online. When compared to seven other countries, including Canada, Japan and Korea, the U.S. is the only one in which the younger population is less educated than the older population, and Texas follows suit. This is more than just a revenue or efficiency related problem in the state of Texas, said James Henson, project director of the Texas Politics Speaker Series and host of the event. “It seems to me that this is a cultural problem in our state,” he said. “People really are just not prioritizing higher education, or they’re thinking of it in kind of a negative light because of problems to do with revenue or other issues.” Most people’s opinions of higher education are centered on the constraints presented by problems like budget cuts, said Plan II senior Jessica Brooker, who works at the Capitol as a legislative aide. People feel a mistaken anger and hostility toward the federal and state governments for the way they handle education, which influences their view on higher education, Brooker said. “Part of my family is from Canada, and I see a real cultural difference in terms of how we look at education,” she said. “The difference is even apparent between Texas and other states. It’s very disheartening, but I can tell that this is going to be a very energetic session. There are a lot of problems concerning higher education that we’re going to try to work through.”