Texans will soon be asked to transfer money from Texas’ Permanent Higher Education Fund to a new National Research University Fund. But voters should reject this constitutional amendment, Proposition 4, and reject the transfer of money. If anything, we should demand that lawmakers instead transfer a fair share of these funds to other colleges and universities throughout Texas.
The proposed National Research University Fund would be restricted to dispersing those funds to just seven “emerging research institutions”: Texas Tech, University of Houston, University of North Texas, UT- Arlington, UT-Dallas, UT-El Paso, and UT-San Antonio.
This new fund is currently estimated to be worth $450 million. The investment earnings are expected to grow to $2 billion before any of the seven institutions become eligible to receive distributions.
Why should just seven universities in Texas have an exclusive kitty of $2 billion? The public should find this exclusivity unacceptable and unfair, indeed a gross discrimination against the balance of colleges and universities throughout Texas.
A recent exhaustive study, reviewing three decades of research and culminating in an 800-page tome entitled “How College Affects Students,” shatters the bedrock foundation of our conventional assumptions about higher education, including large research universities.
I cite three findings, among others. One, elite schools do not have more impact on student growth than do ordinary schools. Two, excellent students will excel later wherever they attend college. Three, expensive and elite schools are not necessarily educationally better than relatively inexpensive schools.
This means that going, say, to the University of Texas does not necessarily mean that students will get a better education there than at a cheaper, even unheralded, local school.
At large research universities in Texas, many professors teach only two classes a week but make an annual salary of some $90, 000, plus 30 percent in fringes.
Of course, these professors will argue in response that they’re freed to do research and publication. Yet does this benefit the students, and does it matter? Former Harvard president Derek Bok reveals in his appropriately entitled book “Our Underachieving Colleges” that “fewer than half of all professors publish as much as one article per year.”
Bok also reveals that universities act like “compulsive gamblers and exiled royalty; there is never enough money to satisfy their desires.” They expand divisions, departments, faculty, staff, buildings, maintenance services—which become unfunded liabilities later driving up costs for students, parents, and taxpayers.
So of course these seven institutions want more money transferred to them by Prop. 4. But satiety will never be met.
Prop. 4 would amend the Texas constitution to mandate exclusivity and permanence of $2 billion, more or less, depending on investment growth, to just seven schools.
Proponents of Prop. 4 argue that expansion of research universities is necessary to reduce brain drain to schools in other states. Yet research universities cannot lay claim to cornering the brain market in Texas. Moreover, nothing keeps a Texan who is educated in another state from returning home.
The average SAT score at the seven universities in question is a combined 1080—mediocre scores at best. Why are we worried about brain drain?
Finally, Prop. 4 will encourage further reliance on taxpayers rather than private section funding. As professors vacate the classroom to seek government research grants, their vacuum will be filled by very young and inexperienced teaching assistants.
There is some truth in John Ciardi’s observation, “A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest in students .”
Ronald L. Trowbridge, Ph. D., is a research fellow at Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. A former Vice President at Hillsdale College, Trowbridge also headed the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Information Agency.