I am very pleased that this summer, committees in the Texas Senate and House of Representatives examined higher education in Texas. One of the issues is whether Texas needs more national research universities. I testified at some of the hearings, and you may have seen the resulting news coverage or editorials.
My own view is that Texas does need more national research universities. They draw talent, federal research dollars, and innovation to our state. They bring research that has both short and long-term impact on our economy. For example, UT faculty generated more than $511 million in research awards in fiscal year 2007-08. Every state dollar invested in the University generates more than $18 in spending in the Texas economy. That’s an exceptional return on investment. The presence of UT is a major reason why Austin attracted more venture capital investment than Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, and San Antonio combined in 2006 and 2007.
So where is Texas now? California has nine national research universities, New York has eight. Texas has three-UT, Texas AandM, and Rice. We are a rapidly growing state, and those three schools can’t perform all the needed research, and they can’t begin to accommodate all our young people who want to attend a national research university. Too many are leaving Texas to realize their dreams. Some 10,000 high school graduates are leaving Texas each year to attend doctoral degree-granting universities elsewhere while only about 4,000 students from other states come to Texas to enroll at similar institutions. That’s a potential brain drain of about 6,000 of our best and brightest students.
It’s time for Texas to elevate one or two of its regional universities. We need to overcome the challenges of inadequate resources, of regionalism, and of institutional resistance to change.
However, the state cannot fund these emerging institutions at the expense of present research universities. UT is already underfunded compared to our national peer institutions, as I have described in earlier messages.
This summer I had the privilege of visiting Normandy, which made me think about the Greatest Generation. We still benefit from the sacrifices the Greatest Generation made during the D-Day invasion there. What will people in the year 2020 or 2050 say about our generation? Will they say that we built the foundation of a first-class system of universities? Our current system of higher education can’t keep up with the aspirations of our children or of our state. Let’s change that. Let’s build a great educational system for Texas.
The University of Texas at Austin