Prairie View A&M president, administrators, teach classes to cut costs, save scholarships
The president of Prairie View A&M, George C. Wright, has started teaching classes himself, and is getting his other top administrators to do the same, in an innovative effort to offset the 15 percent budget cuts at this historically African American university.
Wright, a historian and the author of, among others, a book about lynching and mob rule in Kentucky, will be teaching a survey class on early American history to about 300 students.
“The class had been taught by six adjuncts to classes of 30 students,” he said. “This way, we can either cut the adjuncts or use them in another way. I will have three teaching assistants, which I can pay out of my own discretionary funds.”This sort of creative cost-cutting is how Wright has managed to protect most of the scholarships and financial aid at Prairie View, a university where 95 percent of students are on financial aid and about one-third come from families who live below the poverty level.
“In that kind of home environment, any kind of pay reductions or loss of jobs can have serious consequences,” Wright said.
His central aim was to keep what he calls the university “core” strong. That core includes financial aid and scholarships, coursework, and essential student services, such as counseling.
“Because we knew for a year in advance that we would have budget cuts, though we didn’t know how much, we were able to plan,” Wright said. “One of the things we did was that we tried to make our scholarships more accessible. At every university, there are scholarships that aren’t given out because they are only for a left-handed person majoring in biology from a certain county, or something like that. We tried to broaden the criteria.”
Prairie View also has the advantage of being a recipient of funding from the Permanent University Fund, one-thirds of which goes to eligible schools within the A&M System. (The rest goes to UT System schools.) The money comes from public land that Texas was allowed to keep when it was annexed to the United States, and from the oil and gas revenue from these lands, which are largely in West Texas. Wright said he was able to shift some of the money from these funds to help protect student scholarships and financial aid and to offset the $32 million budget cut.
But he said he thinks his university is no better — and no worse-off — than others statewide.
“We just face different challenges,“ Wright said. “Those schools that don’t receive PUF funds have access to other funds. And other universities, such as UT-Arlington, where I used to be provost, are dealing with enrollment increases of 15 to 18 percent, and having to provide services for those students on a dramatically-reduced budget.
“All of us have challenges,” he said. “I don’t think I would trade mine for anyone else’s. It is difficult to say anyone is a winner in the current climate, but I don’t think one university is suffering more than another.”