Access. Funding. Tier One.
An all-star panel of higher education leaders in Texas gathered Sept. 24-25 in Austin to tackle a topic titled “Can Public Universities Make the Grade?” The panel discussion, part of the inaugural Texas Tribune Festival, included University of Houston System Chancellor and UH president Renu Khator.
Throughout the weekend, more than 1,300 attendees interacted with 100 Texas thought leaders on panels in four broad areas: public and higher education, energy and the environment, race and immigration, and health and human services.
In response to a question from Texas Tribune reporter Reeve Hamilton, who moderated the public and higher education panel, Khator said, “Public universities should get a high grade. This is a state that has a comprehensive document, ‘Closing the Gaps’ for higher education, and approved Tier One legislation to invest in the global competitiveness of its students.”
“Closing the Gaps by 2015” was adopted by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2000, with goals in student participation, student success, excellence and research. Tier One legislation supports more public research universities and their goals for academic excellence.
Khator was joined on stage by R. Bowen Loftin, president of Texas A&M University; Richard M. Rhodes, incoming president of Austin Community College; and Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas at El Paso. Each brought a different perspective to the discussion.
Natalicio noted her university educates a disproportionate number of students who will determine whether Texas will be competitive.
“Access and quality are equally important in higher education,” she said. “Competitiveness is crucial, and to create that, you need resources that come from being a Tier One university.”
Loftin agreed that the state needs quality universities, but not at the expense of those that are already of high quality. “The Legislature rewarded improvement, which is hard when you’re already good,” he said. “The argument is that they penalized what they had in order to get Tier One.”
Khator countered that taking money from other Tier One universities is not something that would be supported by her or other university leaders.
“Texas universities are together in that,” she said. “We want to prevent good students from leaving Texas to study in other states.”
Khator added that national competitiveness means more than academic success: It means athletic success.
UH has experienced transformational success under Khator’s leadership, with the ongoing momentum culminating in unprecedented recognition and achievement for the university within the past year.
Milestones include classification as a Tier One public research university by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, inclusion among America’s Best Colleges for undergraduate education by The Princeton Review and a ranking in the top tier in the latest evaluation report from Top American Research Universities.
The Texas Tribune Festival also featured discussions with T. Boone Pickens, chairman of BP Capital Management; Raymond Dubois Jr., provost and executive vice president of UT MD Anderson Cancer Center; Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education; and Neera Tanden, President Barack Obama’s former senior adviser on health reform.