It has become hard for me to decide whether I’m more afraid of the Texas Legislature or the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). It’s a bad sign when a bureaucratic agency becomes as politicized and erratic as our legislature. However, those of us who have witnessed the incomprehensible and pointless process known as “assessment” have begun to look to our legislature for respite.
The regular session has wrapped up and the Austin-American Statesman has provided a end-of-session review (“Session featured drama, substance on higher education.”
- Too much of the session was taken up by the ongoing obsession with the University of Texas. Perry’s appointees spend too much time trying to micro-manage UT and the Legislature spends too much time reining them in. The state’s leaders continue act as if UT and Texas A&M are the most important battleground for higher education policy and don’t seem to realize how dramatically different other campuses are.
- In some good news, the “Texas Grants” program was increased. This will help more students afford college.
- Governor Perry saw passage of his proposal to create “fixed-rate” tuition plans that mean students can count on tuition remaining steady over their four years of college. Of course, this means the schools will want to build in future costs increases as they consider what to offer incoming freshman. This becomes especially exciting because schools have learned that they can’t count on steady funding from the state.
- “Outcome-based” funding was imposed on two-year schools. This makes a school’s funding formula based partially on how many students complete a semester (rather than how many begin the semester). Increasingly, “accountability” does not always apply to students. Everyone I know who has faced a room full of students knows how naive this his. However, their form of educational socialism that is much en vogue with some of Perry’s advisors. Expect them to continue to continue to push rules that make schools responsible for student success. Exactly how you pass those students who don’t show up and do the work will probably be left to the individual instructor.
- Tuition bonds that would have funded new facilities perished in some kind of silly spat between the House and Senate. There are proposals to add this to the “call” of the current special session. Unfortunately, this is in the hands of the Governor and he has shown no interest so far. These project could get pushed back a couple of years when both construction costs and the costs of borrowing money increase.
- The hottest issue (and, in my opinion, an issue important largely for its symbolic value) was “campus-carry.” This would have allowed individuals with permits to carry concealed weapons into campus buildings. The Legislature did pass a bill that allowed people to keep such weapons in their vehicle when the park on campus. However, the right to carry them into buildings was not passed.
I don’t believe that most of the individuals in the coordinating board or our legislature intend to inflict hard on education in the state. However, collective irrationality can emerge from both bureaucratic and legislative organizations. The THECB currently holds the edge in regard. Expect to see campuses hiring more administrators doing nothing but respond to demands for reports that the people in Austin will not read. However, the massive flow of paperwork will allow our state’s leaders to crow about “accountability” (even as we cancel office hours to attend meetings to generate these reports).