There has been an active conversation in the media over the past few weeks regarding the value of research and its role in higher education. This week, The Houston Chronicle published my op-ed on these important issues. You can read the full piece online, but I’ll share the key points with you here:
- Our faculty is committed to teaching—both undergraduates and graduate students. In the past seven years, we have devoted a great deal of thought, energy, and funding to improving the undergraduate learning experience. Our Signature Courses for all first-year students are an example of the progress we have made. We have also revised much of our undergraduate curriculum to help develop our students’ proficiency in writing, speaking, quantitative reasoning, and independent inquiry.
- We give our freshmen a chance to get involved in research. More than 500 first-year students participate in the Freshman Research Initiative in laboratories with faculty mentors. This experience improves their overall success—participants go on to earn higher grades and more scholarships and have higher retention and graduation rates.
We believe it’s important to expose our freshmen and sophomores to great teaching, the tools of scholarship, and problem solving.
- Research enhances teaching—and it’s good for Texas. Universities enable research that the private sector may be unwilling to support but that has incalculable benefit to society. For example, the research that provided the basis for the creation of today’s lithium-ion batteries started at a university in the lab of a professor now on our faculty. Not only are our faculty conducting groundbreaking research, they are educating the students who will become tomorrow’s private-sector researchers. University research stimulates progress in both the private and public sectors.
All of this is good for our state economy.
- UT-Austin received about $318 million in state support in 2010-11. It leveraged the state’s investment into $642 million (2009-10) in external research grants secured by faculty. The University generated more than $5.8 billion in economic activity in Texas during 2009-10, according to the Bureau of Business Research.
We grant more undergraduate and graduate degrees than any Texas university. We have the highest four-year graduation rate of any public university in the state. I’m proud of UT-Austin’s stature as a national and global university. But like any institution, we can improve, and we will.
As we explore ways to adapt public higher education for the 21st century, we must make sure that we preserve those attributes that have brought us this far in our quest to be the best public university in America.