November 12, 2008
While just about everyone agrees that more top-tier universities would be a tremendous boon to Texas, taking the next steps to accomplish that goal has been quite difficult.
The problem, of course, is limited resources. Thus it ever was. Every major school in Texas and the regions that are home to them believe they should be next to join the University of Texas and Texas A&M as flagship state colleges. So how to decide where to start?
Politics play the biggest part in that decision. Every school vying to be the next flagship has its alumni base and its political base. Like crabs in a bucket, as soon as one begins to rise, the others pull it back.
So while the talk continues about making the University of Houston, or UT-Arlington or Texas Tech the next top-tier school, nothing gets done. State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, has proposed — again — a panel of notables to work through the problem and come up with recommendations for the next flagship universities.
Watson co-authored a similar bill in the last session that passed both houses. But Senate Bill 1234 was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, who said it was redundant because the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has that power.
The Austin Democrat has a point, however. The best way to limit the politics of designating the next top-tier school is to take politics out of the process as much as possible. A task force of educators and experts could look at the criteria needed to develop another high-level research university and investigate which colleges are best prepared to meet the requirements for flagship schools.
It might seem foolish to pour limited state money into higher education during these perilous economic times. And there are always other needs, from children’s health to highways and transportation, begging for a finite amount of state dollars.
But improving higher education is an investment. Top research universities boost the state and local economy and draw more talent to the region. The return on the state’s investment in another flagship university could be substantial.
At any rate, why not have a panel of experts take a long, hard look at the situation, find the best location for the next flagship and estimate the costs and returns? That’s not very expensive, and it could produce a clear picture of what Texas needs to do to boost higher education for the future.
The governor shouldn’t stand in the way of this process again. He and the legislators should hear what a blue-ribbon task force has to say about another flagship college in Texas.
It doesn’t cost much to study the landscape, and the results could be beneficial to Texas in the future.