New study confirms huge economic impact of UT Austin

TexasInvestment

I want to share with you the results of a recently completed study that examined UT Austin’s impact on the economy of the state. The study, conducted by the firm Economic Modeling Specialists International, found that in fiscal year 2013, human capital creation, start-up and spin-off companies, operations spending, and payroll at UT Austin, together with the spending of our students and visitors, generated $8.8 billion in added income to the Texas economy.

This constitutes a 15-to-1 return on investment by the state, and is the equivalent in economic activity of creating 133,000 jobs every year.

Perhaps the most striking number in the report is the long-term economic impact. UT’s enrolled students in 2013 (the year studied) will generate an estimated $23.5 billion for the state’s economy over the course of their careers. And Texas communities will realize $2.8 billion in savings related to reduced crime, lower unemployment, and increased health and well being across the state due to benefits associated with UT Austin.

We know from many anecdotes how important the state’s flagship university is to the Texas economy. These numbers corroborate those stories. A summary of the report can be viewed here. The full, 67-page report can be viewed here.

What starts here changes the world.

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UT takes leading role on major potential energy source, methane hydrate

I want to share with you a very important development. UT Austin recently received a research grant of $58 million to head a team studying methane hydrate, a substance found in abundance beneath the ocean floor and under Arctic permafrost. The U.S. Department of Energy is providing more than $41 million, with the remainder coming from industry and research partners. The fact that this is one of the largest research grants in the University’s history is certainly noteworthy, but the real excitement comes from the potential developments from the study itself.

Methane hydrate is an ice-like solid compound that forms in low-temperature and high-pressure environments where molecules of methane, a chief constituent of natural gas, are trapped within a lattice structure of water molecules. The worldwide energy implications are huge: within the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, where the team will be sampling, there is estimated to be 7,000 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrate, more than 250 times the amount of natural gas used in the United States in 2013. You can read more here.

I’m proud of our scientists at the Institute for Geophysics in the Jackson School of Geosciences for their leadership.

What starts here changes the world.
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Sequestration hurting America by hurting university research

sequestration

From left: Bill Powers; Washington State President Elson Floyd; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Chair of the House Republican Conference; AAU president Hunter Rawlings; UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Tulane President Scott Cowen; and APLU President Peter McPherson

 

Wednesday, in my role as chair of the Association of American Universities, I traveled to Washington to meet with congressional leaders including Democratic whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, chair of the House Republican Conference. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss federal sequestration’s damaging effect on university research and possible solutions as Congress negotiates spending levels for 2014.

Much of our nation’s scientific and economic leadership was built on innovation and research on college campuses and relied on public support. Sequestration is already hurting that research and limiting students’ involvement in the types of innovation that can change the world. We, as a nation, must move forward and support research universities as tools of scientific and economic growth.

Last week, the AAU, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and The Science Coalition, which collectively represent more than 300 higher education institutions, released a survey of U.S. colleges on the impact of sequestration, which took effect in March. They found that the mandatory cuts to federal discretionary spending, from which research budgets are funded, have led to a reduced number of new federal research grants; the delay of some research projects; and fewer admission, stipend, and research opportunities for students.

As AAU President Hunter Rawlings, who participated in the meeting, has said, “As we cut, and then cut some more, and as our competitors overseas increase their investments in research and education, we create an innovation deficit that threatens America’s global leadership. This foolish policy must end.”

Hunter and I were joined on Capitol Hill by officials from the Association of Public Land Grant Universities and presidents and chancellors from Ohio State, UCLA, the University of Maryland, the University of Illinois, and Tulane.

As always, I’m proud to represent The University of Texas at Austin in our nation’s capital and wherever I go.

Bill's Signature

 

A New Era of Collaborative Innovation in Public Higher Education

I wanted to share this message, which I sent to our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends yesterday:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Recently I attended a meeting of the Association of American Universities in Washington, where I invited the presidents of six prominent public universities to discuss the future of higher education in America. In addition, with help from the Lumina Foundation, I’ve been meeting regularly with presidents of several community colleges and four-year colleges in Texas to explore ways we can help improve the success of all our students. There is a great deal of discussion regarding budget reductions, but a more fundamental conversation about higher education is taking place across the nation. This is the first in a series of communications about these issues.

Our social landscape is shifting in fundamental ways. Families are recovering from a deep recession. Using the Internet, smart phones, and other technologies to learn and communicate is second nature to today’s students. Current demographic and social trends are greatly expanding the number of people who seek higher education. State appropriations, once a primary source of funding, now make up a small fraction of public university budgets (about 14 percent at UT Austin). Far more than merely being a training ground for future employees, universities must be partners in innovation for the private sector, entrepreneurial communities, and other educational institutions. Society’s tectonic plates are shifting, and universities must adapt.

From energy to medicine to the space program, Texas and its universities have long been fertile ground for innovation. This innovation must extend to public higher education, and our University is ideally positioned to lead this effort.

In my five years as president, I have worked with colleagues to strengthen undergraduate teaching, to advance research and problem-solving by our faculty, to foster deeper relationships with our alumni and leading corporations, to improve institutional productivity, and to make UT Austin accessible to a cross-section of Texans and exceptional students from across the United States and around the world.

When I was dean of the Law School, I worked with the Commission of 125, a group of about 200 citizen leaders from all walks of life who studied UT in 2002-04 and made recommendations to shape its future. It became clear to everyone engaged in the Commission’s work that the traditional model for public higher education had to change. Indeed, the overarching theme of my State of the University Address last year was the need to increase our productivity and effectiveness in an environment of diminished resources. But while we introduce change-as one of the world’s great research universities-we must be steadfast in our commitment to teaching and research.

With UT’s large student body and influential alumni network, acclaimed faculty, and powerful research enterprise-combined with its depth and diversity of programs and overall excellence-no university is better positioned to pursue new approaches and make an impact. We must cultivate innovation, exploring new, more effective pathways for how our students and faculty learn and create new knowledge.

In my view, the public research university of the 21st century must:

  • Engage in solving major global problems, expanding knowledge, and improving lives throughout society
  • Offer the highest-quality undergraduate education, graduate programs, and research to prepare the next generation of leaders who will change the world
  • Exploit the opportunities that new technology creates in learning and educational research
  • Develop new revenue streams to become even more financially self-sufficient
  • Focus resources on those programs that can achieve true excellence and that offer strategic opportunities to advance knowledge
  • Increase efficiency and reduce costs in university operations on a continual basis
  • Share educational resources with emerging research universities, regional universities, community colleges, and high schools to expand educational opportunities for everyone

This vision for the future is taking shape in many ways on our campus, much of it inspired by the Commission of 125. The Commission emphasized the importance of pursuing excellence, enriching the undergraduate experience, and developing strong leadership for academic departments and research centers. Here are some of the changes under way that reflect our commitment to this vision.

UT has overhauled its core curriculum for all undergraduates, adding a mandatory rigorous intellectual experience known as the First-Year Signature Course, which includes coursework in disciplines such as English, history, social sciences, math, natural sciences, and the performing arts. These courses are designed to develop important skills in writing, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, ethics, and independent inquiry.

We are redesigning key gateway courses in chemistry, biology, and statistics to shift the emphasis from traditional teaching methods to more innovative and effective student-centered learning. This Course Transformation Program uses technology to gain immediate insights into teaching effectiveness and to individualize learning both inside and outside the classroom. Transformation of these three initial courses will affect more than 9,000 UT Austin students per year.

We are partnering with Harvard and Carnegie Mellon universities to use advanced instructional technology and interactive tools to develop free educational materials and online interactive tutors to help students realize their potential on our campus and at other Texas colleges and universities. One of the objectives of the project is to help students reach similar levels of proficiency across learning environments at institutions with a wide range of missions.

Innovation also requires that we manage costs. In fact, our administrative costs are about half the average rate for state universities in Texas. Current efficiency initiatives in information technology, data storage, purchasing, water and energy conservation, and other areas are projected to save $565 million over a 10-year period.

In addition to finding new efficiencies, we must also create new income streams to support our academic priorities.

  • We are aggressively pursuing the commercialization of our intellectual property through programs to create new companies and connect them with investors.
  • In 2010 we launched H2Orange bottled water, a partnership that generates scholarship funds from water packaged in a recyclable bottle shaped like the UT Tower.
  • Earlier this year we announced the Longhorn Network, a 20-year partnership with ESPN and IMG College that will guarantee $300 million in revenue to support UT Austin. We have already committed funding from this agreement to create new faculty chairs in philosophy and physics.

American research universities are the envy of the world. Nations worldwide are aggressively trying to replicate them because they attract the best faculty, who attract the best students, who become tomorrow’s leaders. Research universities drive economic development in their regions because they produce the educated workforce companies need and new knowledge that generates innovation and economic development.

Texas has a history of leadership and innovation. To build a stronger future for the people of our state, we need to lead in higher education. At UT Austin, we are working to unify our 470,000 alumni and many other important constituent groups to make this shared vision a reality. It’s a vision that will strengthen all public universities, our state, and our nation.

Sincerely,

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

More Horsepower for Scientific Research

High-speed computing is the fuel on which much of the modern research university runs. It allows us to find patterns and order in what, to the naked eye, looks like chaos. And in doing so, high-speed computing helps us make greater sense of our world, the first step toward overcoming our many challenges.

You know a computer is special when it gets its own name and ceremony, and next week, I’ll help dedicate just such a machine. We call it Lonestar 4, and it will reside at the Texas Advanced Computing Center on UT’s Pickle Research Campus.

Lonestar4

Like its predecessors at TACC, Lonestar 4 will be among the most powerful academic supercomputers in the world, with peak performance of 302 teraflops and more than 44 terabytes of total memory. What those numbers mean is that scientists will be able to better model earthquakes and tsunamis, better predict hurricanes, help with oil and gas recovery, develop alternative energy, and do breakthrough biological research.

Building Lonestar 4 required the collaboration of 11 academic units and technology corporations, and it will be Texas’ largest technology-sharing endeavor.

As a university president, I have a special stake in this amazing hardware because high-powered computing is key to attracting the best talent to our faculty and enabling their work once they get here. Supercomputers are critical to our competitiveness as a 21st century research institution.

Computing power is becoming like a utility, that is, it’s becoming ever more distributed, and as that happens, more powerful. Like gas or electricity in the last century, computing is becoming more essential to social development itself. And just as with other types of energy, Texas and UT are leading the way in harnessing this new fuel that drives knowledge and progress.

No large and complex project gets off the ground without talented leadership, and I want to thank TACC director Jay Boisseau and his team for continuing to make UT proud.

You can read more about Lonestar 4 and what supercomputers are being used for here: www.tacc.utexas.edu

Hook ’em Horns!

Bill's Signature