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Office of the President

Message from the President

State Legislative Testimony

February 18, 2011

 

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier today, you received an email from UH System Chancellor Renu Khator about the financial crisis facing the State of Texas and the significant cuts to funding for higher education under consideration by the Texas Legislature. I applaud the Chancellor for her testimony this past week that explained how drastic cuts would severely limit the UH System's ability to achieve its goals.

While in Austin, I testified before committees on what those cuts would mean for UHD and I submitted written testimony to both committees. My written testimony follows:

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) continues to grow, achieving a fall 2010 enrollment of 12,900 - evidence that UHD is being responsive to the higher education needs of Greater Houston.

I will begin today by sharing with you examples of how UHD is promoting greater access to higher education in its service area and how UHD is being recognized for its effectiveness in helping the state achieve the goals outlined in Closing the Gaps.

In Fall 2010, UHD began offering courses in northwest Houston at Lone Star College (LSC)-University Park. Through this collaborative effort with LSC and other universities, UHD is providing students in this under-served area the opportunity to earn degrees in accounting, finance, biological and physical sciences, criminal justice, education and other high-demand fields. Our enrollment goals for this site for FY2011 were ambitious, and I am pleased to report that we expect to exceed them.

UHD was also recognized this year for its success in graduating students from groups that have historically been under-represented in higher education. In a report issued by Diverse Issues in Higher Education, UHD was listed #34 nationally in producing Hispanic graduates and #47 nationally in producing African-American graduates.

With respect to how UHD is helping Texas meet the Participation goals of Closing the Gaps, UHD's Fall 2010 enrollment was comprised of 28 percent African-American and 39 percent Hispanic students, as compared to statewide averages of 12 percent and 26 percent respectively.

With regard to Closing the Gaps in the area of Success, the surest measure of success is the number of graduates produced. In FY2010 UHD conferred Baccalaureate or Master's degrees to 2,403 students. This represented an increase of 107 percent from FY2000, as compared to the statewide average increase of 46 percent over this period.

I am also pleased to report that UHD consistently outperforms the state average for another key performance measure, Baccalaureate Graduate Success, which measures the percentage of baccalaureate graduates who after graduation are either employed or enrolled in a Texas graduate program or professional school.

In terms of Institutional Efficiency and Effectiveness, UHD is able to accomplish much with the state resources entrusted to it. At $4,344, UHD's Appropriation per FTE Student is well below the statewide average of $6,796. In FY2010 UHD's Operating Expense per FTE Student and Total Revenue per FTE Student were approximately two-thirds of the state averages in those categories. UHD is very grateful for the state support it receives and the intent here is to make the point that the State of Texas receives a good return on its investment in UHD students. UHD is also pleased to point out that it does not look to offset its lower-than-average state general revenue support by putting the burden on students. The average cost this year to an undergraduate student taking 30 hours at UHD is $5,492 as compared to a state average of $6,785.

All this talk of dollars-and-cents creates a nice opportunity for me to segue into my comments about the 2012/2013 budget situation.

In the current Senate Bill 1, UHD faces a biennial reduction in general revenue support of $8.2M. This does not include indirect reductions in areas like ERS or state financial aid.

The impact of a cut of this size on the institution would be significant. To put into context what $4M/yr is able to provide at UHD, consider that this is the approximate cost of any one of the following:

  • all of the full-time faculty in UHD's Mathematics and Engineering Technology departments
  • all of the full-time faculty in UHD's College of Public Service (Education, Criminal Justice)
  • all of the operations of UHD's W.I. Dykes Library
  • all of the operations of the Enrollment Services division (Admissions, Records, Financial Aid Office, Veteran's Affairs)

Another way to view it is that at UHD $4M covers the cost of (each):

  • serving 920 students
  • providing 43 full-time faculty positions (including salary and benefits)
  • delivering between 320-440 courses (depending on the mix of full-time/part-time)

UHD will deal with any necessary budget reductions through a combination of actions, including the elimination of positions, the elimination or combination of programs, cuts to already lean operating budgets and possibly furloughs. Whatever actions are taken though, they will inevitably have an impact on the number of students UHD will be able to serve and how well the university will be able to serve them.

It would be unreasonable for higher education to ask for preferential treatment in this environment. However, it is not unreasonable to ask that higher education receive the same consideration as other state agencies. The cuts sustained in FY2010/2011 resulted in higher education absorbing 41 percent of the total cuts even though higher education represents just 12.5 percent of all state spending. This has been explained by the fact that education is the largest component of the discretionary portion of the state budget, and the number was being divided into all state spending, discretionary and non-discretionary alike. However, in the Senate bill, as the discretionary GR portion of the budget was being reduced by 10.1 percent, higher education's cut was being set at 11.9 percent.

The more that higher education funding can be preserved, the more progress institutions such as UHD will be able to make in helping the state achieve its Closing the Gaps goals. The bulk of our support comes through the funding formulas, and we urge that this legislature work to preserve formula funding at as close to the current levels as possible.

We also urge for support for the TEXAS Grant program. This vital state financial assistance program has enabled thousands of Texans to achieve their dream of earning a college degree. UHD students are currently awarded $5M annually in TEXAS Grants. Consideration is also being given to moving the TEXAS Grant awards to being more merit-based and less need-based. UHD serves many students with financial need and has concerns about where its low-income students will find money to replace what they'd been receiving through TEXAS Grants. Therefore, the important thing is that this state investment in our future be maintained at as close to the current level as possible.

Finally, as we face these challenges together we ask that the legislature consider providing colleges and universities with more flexibility in terms of how they can use the resources they receive/generate. One idea that deserves consideration would be to temporarily suspend the mandatory scholarship set-asides from designated tuition. While scholarships would remain a high institutional priority, having the option of using some of these funds to support core operations would be welcomed.

Despite the challenges faced by the state, UHD shares the optimism of state leadership with regard to our state's future. Texas has always been about the entrepreneurial spirit of its people, and that remains true to this day. Education is the multiplier that coupled with that spirit will continue to power our economic engine and provide better lives for our citizens.

Thank you.

As you can see, I provided additional information to our legislators so they could better understand how the cuts would affect our ability to educate students. I know the UH System delegation put forward a persuasive case on behalf of our state support. I will continue to keep you apprised of developments as we work on behalf of current and future students in Texas.

Sincerely,

Bill Flores
UHD President

 

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