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In-house study finds UT, A&M among nation’s most efficient universities

Posted on: September 1st, 2011 by Patrick Michels 2 Comments

A study released Thursday by a University of Texas at Austin researcher says UT is one of the most efficient schools in the country, by some measures of graduation rates and state funding.

Marc Musick, an associate dean at UT’s College of Liberal Arts, compiled the report ahead of this month’s meeting of a UT task force for improving graduation rates. UT’s 81 percent graduation rate over six years is 13th out of the 120 public research universities in the U.S., Musick writes, but the school’s 53 percent rate over four years is “unacceptably low,” he writes.

“Similarly, the university ranks 10th in the percentage of students it graduates for every public dollar it receives. And it is second in the number of faculty it employs for every public dollar it receives,” he writes. UT received $7,353 per student in 2009, the year Musick gathered data from.

As the Texas Tribune reported, the past few months have been long on reports on graduation rates and faculty productivity at UT and Texas A&M — but Musick’s study emphasizes putting their numbers into national perspective:

One noticeable difference between the new report and others that have sparked controversy recently — notably those of Richard Vedder and Rick O’Donnell, both of whom criticized the university for allegedly low faculty productivity — is its scope. “Most of the talk has really focused on UT,” Musick says, “not about how efficient we are compared to other schools.”

According to Musick’s report, Texas A&M has an 80 percent six-year graduation rate, and ranks fourth nationally by his measure of graduation rates per dollar spent.

The University of Florida, was the most efficient at producing graduates, Musick found. Its yearly tuition is about half of UT’s, but it receives $4,000 more per student from the state. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is considering adopting some of the higher education reforms backed by Gov. Rick Perry.

Those “seven breakthrough solutions” introduced by the Texas Public Policy Foundation target faculty course loads, tenure and a split between teaching and research budgets, as mechanisms to lower tuition costs and make college more accessible.

Last week UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced a framework of his own for boosting efficiency at all the UT schools, as the Texas Independent reported. UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. formed a task force of his own earlier this year to help boost the school’s four-year graduation rate to 70 percent, a target, as Powers noted on his blog today, that the University of Michigan and University of California at Berkeley already hit.

Marc Musick UT Analysis on university efficiency

Critics of Perry-led higher ed reform in Texas warn Florida of ramifications

Posted on: August 31st, 2011 by The American Independent 3 Comments

Rick Perry (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/eschipul)Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t been specific about his plans to overhaul the state’s higher education system, but he has made clear his intention to make some changes — and higher education reforms in Texas will be a likely template. # (more…)

UT Chancellor lays out broad plan for higher education reform

Posted on: August 26th, 2011 by Teddy Wilson 10 Comments

In much-anticipated remarks to the University of Texas Board of Regents Thursday, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa laid out a broad nine-point plan to streamline operations across the system, increase accountability and expand science and medical education around the state. (more…)

UT regents’ emails show delicate process of responding to Perry on ‘seven solutions’

Posted on: August 23rd, 2011 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

In the months after Gov. Rick Perry gathered Texas higher education officials for a summit on efficiency-based reforms, emails obtained by the Austin American-Statesman detail the delicate work that went into crafting the response from the University of Texas regents. (more…)

Sen. Zaffirini seeking all information on contentious higher ed proposals

Posted on: April 27th, 2011 by Patrick Brendel No Comments

Image by: Matt MahurinThe chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education has filed a comprehensive public information request for documents related to university proposals created by an ally of Gov. Rick Perry and pushed by the governor. Preliminary responses to the request have already yielded new evidence of the governor’s office pressuring regents, and regents in turn pressuring university officials, she said.

“I soon found out that this controversy is not just at UT and A&M; it is statewide,” said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). (more…)

UT reassigns special adviser; TPPF influence at UT and A&M still apparent

Posted on: March 25th, 2011 by Patrick Brendel No Comments

On Thursday, The University of Texas System reassigned special adviser Rick O’Donnell and stipulated that the former Colorado higher ed chief’s position will be terminated at the end of the current fiscal year. The move — which was much more high-profile than the initial hiring of the former Texas Public Policy Foundation expert — came in response to resounding criticism from higher education experts and alumni of TPPF’s influence on university policy and O’Donnell’s skepticism of the value of academic research.

At the same time, about 100 miles northeast of Austin, Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign treasurer Richard Box was elevated to the position of chair of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, while major Perry donor and TPPF board member Phil Adams was elected vice-chair, the Bryan-College Station Eagle reports.

At UT, O’Donnell will no longer report directly to UT Regents chair Gene Powell, but instead to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. O’Donnell will be dismissed, at the latest, on Sept. 1, the San Antonio Express-News reports.

In addition to O’Donnell’s work for TPPF, where he questioned the value of academic research and proposed splitting teaching and research functions, O’Donnell actually played a major role in implementing Colorado’s unique college student voucher program while he was head of higher education in that state from 2004-2006, the Austin American-Statesman notes. The Texas Independent previously reported on O’Donnell’s involvement in the ‘College Opportunity Fund,’ which, in addition to tying college funding to students rather than institutions, also effectively severs teaching and research funding.

And while O’Donnell will no longer report directly to Powell (who’s given more than $110,000 to Perry over the years), his role will be to provide staff support to two special advisory committees, one on “university excellence and productivity” and one on “blended and online learning,” the Texas Tribune reports. UT Regent and TPPF board member Brenda Pejovich is spearheading the committee on excellence and productivity, which also includes new Regent Alex Cranberg, a prominent supporter of charter schools and school vouchers in Colorado, as the Texas Independent previously reported.

Committee findings were first due to be released in May, while the Texas Legislature is still in session, but now the committees could still be working through the summer, after the Legislature ends. Several key higher ed leaders in the Legislature have also criticized O’Donnell’s hiring.

A page on UT’s website is dedicated to the special advisory committees, with a “Background Reading List” for each committee. Included on the reading list for the excellence and productivity committee is a book by Clark Aldrich called Unschooling Rules, which purports to contain “55 ways to unlearn what we know about schools and rediscover education.” The foreword to Aldrich’s book was written by TPPF board member Jeff Sandefer, founder of the Acton School of Business and one of the architects of TPPF’s seven “breakthrough solutions” for higher education, now in various stages of implementation at A&M. On his blog, Aldrich calls Sandefer a “visionary.”

Also on the reading list is a two-part presentation by InterEd Inc. consulting group, aimed at university leaders exploring the institution of a three-year degree plan. In addition to numerous statements elsewhere on its website critical of traditional universities and laudatory of for-profit colleges, “The Three-Year Degree” presentation includes the following passages attributed to InterEd President/CEO Robert W. Tucker:

“Most university administrators see the advantages of offering their products in various formats to different markets. The professoriate, on the other hand, rhapsodizes about an antiquated model of higher education in which professors ruled and students took copious notes. There was no substantial corpus of knowledge derived from the learning and pedagogical sciences. Only the smart and the rich attended. Efficiency was not a concern. There was little infrastructure or superstructure. The system operated in a 19th Century agrarian economy serving 2-3% of the theoretical market.”

“Bring the incessant and self-serving whining about academic ‘rigor’ and ‘quality’ to an end. The posture is not only unattractive and hypocritical, it is a lie. Notwithstanding degrees for which there are external proficiency benchmarks, only a handful of the nation’s colleges and universities conduct scientifically sound integrated assessments of learning processes, outcomes, and impact, including student goal attainment. Of these few institutions, perhaps 10% use the information systematically as decision-support to improve quality, efficiency, etc. The rest of the schools conform to Ted Manning’s observations by producing copious claims to vague notions of quality they can’t prove, and don’t understand very well.”

“Replace the unsound, unprovable, and largely irrelevant notions of rigor and quality with the understanding that modern definitions of quality derive from the construct “Suitability to Purpose“—but whose purpose? Most economists would argue that the customer’s purpose is central and dominant. Higher education, on the other hand, discounts the student as a customer and derives its notions of quality from professorial purposes, which are often at variance with those of the customer.”

In related news, the head of UT’s former students association issued a call to action to members of the influential organization. The letter blasting UT Regents’ decision to hire O’Donnell begins: “We need your immediate help to address what is unquestionably the most serious threat our University has faced in years. The mission and core values of our beloved University are under attack.” (via the Houston Chronicle’s Texas Politics blog)

On the other hand, news aggregator Push Junction published a letter, attributed to San Antonio entrepreneur Red McCombs, wherein the namesake of UT-Austin’s business school urges unified support of university leaders and Gov. Perry. McCombs has given Perry nearly $450,000 in campaign contributions since 2000, including $170,000 in 2009-2010, according to Texas Ethics Commission records.