Thursday, May 26, 2016

Delightfully good time had at Trib Higher Ed. Funding Event

"Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. "
Colossians 3:20

Lt. Governor Patrick's shadow loomed large over this morning's Trib event on Higher Ed. funding; as such it could not have been more enjoyable for this author to attend.

Chairman Seliger desperately clung to relevance discussed the practical aspects of implementing the Lt. Governor's agenda.  He was visibly caught between the rock of his longstanding history of gutting accountability in Higher education and the hard place of political reality in Dan Patrick's Senate.  To his credit, Chairman Seliger didn't seem to have much use for the lackadaisical financial management we've seen at public universities the past few years.

Senator Watson was full of excuses provided a contrarian, if logically questionable, perspective.  Watson mentioned his dissatisfaction with focusing on tuition as "a single tree as opposed to the whole forest" of higher ed. funding.  We're not sure what that means, but we're sure it involves spending a lot of money.  Watson also tried to hang his hat on the irrelevant claim that UT has the lowest tuition of the 15 largest flagship universities in the country.  Watson's overhyped statement reminded us of Michael Quinn Sullivan's longstanding observation that just because Texas is the least drunk state at the bar doesn't mean we should get behind the wheel.

Neither Senator brought up administrative expenses on their own.  To his credit, Evan Smith went there.  Discussing exploding administrative costs at a time when universities are raising tuition, Smith noted: "the optics are crap."  Seliger didn't argue.  Even Kirk Watson was forced, kicking and screaming though he might have been on the inside, to admit that looking at administrative costs is "appropriate."

Smith also asked whether higher education costs were the result of market forces creating an equilibrium along the supply and demand curves.  While neither Senator responded, we will point out that there is nothing even remotely resembling a free market in higher education.  While distortions in higher ed. market are primarily caused by the feds, it should still be the task of the Texas legislature to not create more distortions.

There was one topic that wasn't brought up that we wish had been: Endowments.  UT has the second largest endowment of any university in the country, A&M's isn't far behind, and no public university in Texas is exactly hurting in that department.  At some point we're going to have to ask if it's appropriate to have the universities sit on billions of dollars while they're raising tuition on students.

Bottom Line: When the biggest defenders of the status quo squirm visibly at a public event, that's a very good sign.

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