Office of Planning & Budgeting

August 29, 2011

Texas Adopts Controversial Higher Ed Reforms

We’ve blogged previously about the controversial reforms being aggressively pursued by Governor Perry and various of the appointees he has placed on Texas higher education governing boards and in university administrations. The reforms were initially developed by the conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), and are centered around placing the student in a stronger consumer role, basing professor pay and tenure more directly on student evaluations, creating a bright line between teaching and research funding, and changing the state funding model from one that subsidizes institutions to one that provides grants directly to students. Many may recognize these as reforms long advocated for in the K-12 sector for some time.

After a protracted battle between a variety of interested parties (academics, administrators, legislators, state leaders, alumni, lobbyists and more), the University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously approved what they called ‘A Framework for Advancing Excellence Throughout the University of Texas System‘ at their May meeting. An action plan released last week provided a glimpse at the compromises made to quell strong opposition.

More flexible than initially feared, the action plan allows institutions to tailor the reforms to their institutions. Major system-wide goals include:

  • Increased degree production
  • Increased use of online and blended instruction
  • Development of performance incentives for professors
  • Strengthening of post-tenure review for professors
  • Creation of external review for schools and colleges within the institution
  • Critical review of PhD programs and decreased time to PhD
  • Increased research collaboration, especially with non-academic partners
  • Increased research and philanthropic funding
  • Increased administrative efficiency through standardized systems, sharing of services, and better space utilization

Although much less divisive than the specific reforms championed by TPPF, these goals are ambitious enough to put Texas in a category of its own nationwide. How  individual institutions endeavor to implement the action plan in the near future, and the extent to which they engage faculty in the process, will likely determine the mood and direction in Texas public higher education for some time.

In the meantime, Florida Governor Rick Scott is indicating a desire to follow Rick Perry’s lead on this issue.