ARLINGTON - Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation Wednesday aimed at creating more national research universities against a backdrop of university leaders and state lawmakers who pledged to put higher education in Texas on a pathway to excellence.
President James D. Spaniolo joined area lawmakers and other academic leaders as Gov. Perry signed the Tier One bill (photo: UT Dallas).
Perry lauded the signing as an historic day for Texas universities in a ceremony at The University of Texas at Dallas Natural Science and Engineering Research Laboratory, which was built in part with support from the governor's Texas Enterprise Fund.
James D. Spaniolo, president of The University of Texas at Arlington, joined UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, UT Dallas President David Daniel and Gretchen M. Bataille, president of the University of North Texas, at the bill signing ceremony.
Perry told the academic leaders and lawmakers that he has shared concerns of others who believe there aren't enough Tier One institutions in the state.
But with the funding, Perry said, Texas research labs will generate "world-changing technology, wealth-creating technology, discoveries that will transform an industry."
Spaniolo said the funding will have immediate impact as UT Arlington's research programs continue to grow.
"We've got a number of active projects. It will allow us to expand what we're doing at a more active pace," Spaniolo said.
National research universities, often referred to as "Tier One" universities, attract top faculty and students to produce scientific innovation and economic benefit. Texas lags behind similarly sized states in the number of national research universities. Texas has only three Tier One schools - The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and Rice University - compared to California's nine and New York's seven.
The Tier One legislation, House Bill 51, constructs a framework of funding that rewards performance by all of the state's public universities, but in particular the seven universities classified by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board as "emerging research universities." They include Texas Tech University, University of Houston, UNT, UT Arlington, UT Dallas, The University of Texas at El Paso and The University of Texas at San Antonio. The legislation also provides matching state dollars for external financial support raised for research at these seven institutions.
Under the legislation, more than $680 million may be available to Texas universities as they strive to attract the highest quality faculty and students and build excellent programs. The bulk of this potential funding, $425 million, is part of a dormant state fund that would be reallocated to help emerging research universities if voters approve a constitutional referendum this November.
The sponsors of HB 51, state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, spoke at the bill signing. They were joined by their legislative colleagues and fellow authors of the bill, state Reps. Kelly Hancock, Carol Kent, Brian McCall, Jerry Madden and state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who introduced Gov. Perry.
"Everyone is going to be a winner in House Bill 51," Shapiro said. "It's amazing how much we've done in one bill to affect higher education."
If voters approve the ballot measure in November, the designated emerging research universities will be eligible for matching funds provided they earn and spend at least $45 million per year on research for two consecutive years. They also must meet four of six other criteria:
- have at least a $400 million endowment
- award at least 200 doctorate of philosophy degrees per year
- have high-achieving freshman classes
- be recognized for scholarship and research
- have a high-quality faculty
- have excellent graduate education
Standards, such as "high-achieving," will be further specified by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Speaking to the assembled university presidents and lawmakers, Daniel said, "This bill is a roadmap for establishing more national research universities in the state. We are deeply grateful to all of you for your leadership."
There are proven benefits to communities that have a Tier One university. Alumni from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for example, have founded more than 4,000 companies which employ approximately 1.1 million people and generate $232 billion in sales, an amount roughly equal to the economic output of Houston or the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Tier One schools also attract and retain top talent in their regions; 15 percent of Rice University's undergraduate population comes from Harris County, but 33 percent of its alumni live there. The availability of more Tier One universities will keep the state's most academically talented students from leaving to attend out-of-state universities.
Texas ships off more than 10,000 high school graduates per year who attend doctoral-granting universities in other states, while recruiting only about 4,000 per year from other states. This brain drain - a net loss of nearly 6,000 highly qualified students per year - is large and in the last six years has increased by 54 percent.
The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.