Texas was struggling to compete for Tier 1 colleges fifteen years ago. Texas lagged behind California with only three, while California had 11. As a result, we had trouble keeping our best and brightest employees, missed out on essential research funds, and fell short of the expectations of the private sector for commercially viable ideas.
State legislators approved House Bill 51 in 2009, which started the Tier 1 competition, established objectives for Texas’ fledgling research universities, and linked financing to outcomes.
A university may access a $500 million National Research University Fund if it consistently reaches objective criteria, such as spending $45 million on research for two consecutive years. An emerging research institution qualified for up to a dollar-for-dollar match from the Texas Research Incentive Program when it collected at least $100,000 in private funding for qualifying research.
Tier 1 Race Revolutionized Texas
The Tier 1 race revolutionized Texas. New research universities achieved their goals and earned more than $1.6 billion. Seven public universities received Carnegie Research Level 1 status: University of Houston, Texas Tech University, University of North Texas, University of Texas at Arlington, University of Texas at Dallas, University of Texas at El Paso, and University of Texas at San Antonio. In January, Gov. Greg Abbott said in his inaugural speech that Texas was “number one for Tier 1 Research Universities” and was “now the knowledge capital of America.”
Notably, TRIP evolved into a potent tool for giving our college’s Tier 1 designation. Since 2009, TRIP has used over $400 million in state funding to leverage over $950 million in private donations, while the National Research University Fund has given away nearly $250 million. Texas struggled to uphold half of the public-private agreement because individual and corporate funders received TRIP so well. TRIP match unused funds is already close to $350 million.
Texas has the most Tier 1 colleges; building our educated workforce should be our next strategic objective. By the time our state celebrates its bicentennial, 70% of occupations will demand a postsecondary degree, according to Texas 2036’s policy experts. Given that less than one in three Texas high school graduates earn a postsecondary certificate within six years after graduation, this is encouraging news for graduates with high skills looking for high-paying professions but also serves as a cautionary tale for state policymakers.
Legislators in Texas are getting ready to start the second round of the Tier 1 race in the state capitol. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dade Phelan all endorsed newly accredited Tier 1 universities in February. Budget authors Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-League City, unveiled plans in March that built on our accomplishments in the Tier 1 race.
According to these ideas, a new Texas University Fund, which repurposes the National Research University Fund and adds significant additional funds, will deliver eternal, dependable, and prodigious revenue to UNT, Texas Tech, Houston, and Texas State.
A current fund for aspiring Tier 1 colleges will now go exclusively to UT Arlington, UT Dallas, UT El Paso, and UT San Antonio. This fall, if a majority of voters accept a ballot initiative and two-thirds of each legislative chamber approves these plans, a majority of our state’s emerging research universities will receive a sizable boost in funding.
The main takeaway from the Tier 1 competition was that institutions respond to incentives. The fact that these programs continue to reward accomplishments like research spending and degrees granted should be welcomed by Texans, but they might wish that the House and Senate had allocated more money for TRIP than the initial $33 million suggested.
Without an increase, this little amount—less than 10% of unfulfilled matches—would cripple the fund with the finest track record for improving Texas Tier 1 institutions and would miss the chance to fulfill the state’s obligations and encourage private donations to public schools. You can also check the latest news Texas Education Agency Poised To Appoint New Leaders For Houston School District.
Glenn Hegar, the comptroller, predicted a $32 billion surplus, $36 billion in new revenue, and $27 billion for a rainy day reserve in January. Given Texas’ current financial situation, the time appears ideal to fulfill TRIP’s approximately $350 million promise to private contributors and encourage university presidents to engage in private philanthropy. If not, policymakers would be prudent to contribute $150 million to break the previous record or, at the very least, match TRIP’s average allocation of $50 million.
Before their May 29 finish line, state officials should take advantage of what Hegar called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to produce transformative achievements. A revitalized TRIP that encourages private donations would enable Texas’ Tier 1 institutions to deliver on their promise of establishing Texas the nation’s capital of the educated workforce, along with sound strategy for the subsequent phase of the Tier 1 race.