New medical school just adds to UT Austin’s long history in health care

I’d like to share with you my op-ed published Wednesday in the Houston Chronicle:

“The new Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin has moved ahead with great speed over the past two years. Because of the headlines this has generated, Texans now are beginning to associate UT Austin with health care. In reality, however, the university has been deeply involved in this field for a long time. Our professional colleges and schools have long trained students and done research in medical and related fields like nursing since 1960, social work since 1950, and pharmacy since 1927.”

To read the op-ed, please visit:
http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Powers-New-medical-school-just-adds-to-UT-s-5507914.php

I’m proud of the work UT has done over many decades in the area of health and medicine, and I’m excited for the new era that our Dell Medical School will bring.

Bill's Signature

We must increase our national investment in higher education

On Tuesday, I had the honor of beginning my year of service as chairman of the Association of American Universities. To mark the occasion, I contributed an op-ed to the Houston Chronicle expressing my hopes for a new national investment in higher education. I’d like to share it with you here and below:

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Today, I’m proud to begin my one-year service as chairman of the Association of American Universities. Since 1900, the AAU has been the chief promoter of the American research university, and the University of Texas at Austin is one of just 62 current members.

In American higher education, there is no issue more critical than affordability. Gov. Rick Perry has made it a priority and President Barack Obama has as well. It concerns me, as it should every leader in higher education and all who understand the crucial role a college education plays in social mobility and national productivity.
In August, the White House published its College Scorecard, an interactive tool families can use to evaluate college options. UT-Austin fares well with a high graduation rate and a below-the-median cost.

In the final analysis, there are only two main ways to decrease the price tag of college for students: 1) decreasing operational costs and 2) increasing support from nontuition sources. Obama has called on universities to control their costs, and at UT, we are doing that. For example, we are undergoing a major initiative to reduce the costs of our operations by consolidating our staff so that multiple departments can share the expertise of specialists in human resources, information technology, procurement and accounting. Universities are behind the business sector in modernizing these functions, and we will all benefit from catching up.

But holding the line on costs — even cutting costs — is not sufficient for the needs of the future. We must also increase support for higher education from nontuition sources. These sources fall into four main categories: philanthropy, research grants, nontraditional revenue sources (such as licensing our discoveries or merchandising our brand) and public funding.

On this last count, we all have reason for alarm. In the last 25 years, student enrollment at state universities across America has grown by 62 percent, while total public funding has increased by only 2 percent. Consequently, state funding per student has dropped by 30 percent in those 25 years. And this is not a matter of our collective wealth, but rather, a matter of priorities: Nationally, state support per $1,000 of personal income has dropped by 37 percent. We cannot continue to decrease public funding across the nation and then express shock when the price to students goes up or we fall behind our competitors around the world.

We are witnessing a massive, historic public disinvestment in higher education. In spite of that, higher education is still doing amazing things. In Texas, economists have estimated that our state receives a 21-to-1 return on investment from UT-Austin. That is, for the state’s annual investment of about $300 million, it gets a university that contributes $6.4 billion to the economy through direct and indirect spending by staff, faculty and students.

The reasons for this disinvestment are many and include state- and federally mandated programs that have eaten deeply into the amount over which state legislatures have discretion. Those mandates likely are not going away. But if legislators realized the massive return on investment they are already getting from higher education, they would be going “all in” with public funding like a poker player with the best hand of his life. Of course, it is not just a matter of “throwing money at a problem.” We must be smart and targeted in our spending; but make no mistake, we must invest resources in higher education.

University administrations need to aggressively control higher education’s cost. But the responsibility for the cost of public higher education also rests with the public. Higher education affordability should be a nationally shared priority. State governments should begin making up lost ground by returning to their historical investment levels for higher education. It will help hold the line on the cost to students, and it’s the best investment of public dollars we can possibly make.

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Thank you for your support as I enter this exciting new year of national visibility for The University of Texas at Austin.

Hook ’em Horns,

Bill's Signature

Research Enhances Teaching

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.

Bill's Signature