October 19, 2009
I wrote last week about the 11 propositions on the November 3 ballot. And I’ll admit that you’d (or I’d) have to be a pretty serious nerd to be excited about an every-other-year chance to amend Texas’ constitution.
But I am excited about Proposition 4.
Proposition 4 would dedicate more than $400 million that the state already has to the creation of more Tier One universities in Texas.
This is a big deal – a once-in-a-generation opportunity to super-charge our economy, help our universities and create a lasting inheritance for future generations.
And it won’t cost us a penny.
Proposition 4 would free up about $425 million that the state isn’t currently using and put it toward the groundbreaking research, state-of-the-art facilities and internationally renowned faculty that distinguish “Tier One” universities. Generally, these are campuses that do at least $100 million in research every year and stand out nationally for well-known professors, the best and brightest students, and rigorous academic programs.
Texas already has a number of good universities where students can get a great education: schools like Texas Tech, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, and the University of Texas campuses in San Antonio, El Paso and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
But there are only three – the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, and Rice University – that are considered “Tier One” institutions.
These three universities are economic powerhouses. They don’t just provide a great education; they spin off technologies, companies, and creative graduates that can completely transform a region for generations.
Take it from someone who’s represented UT as mayor, chamber of commerce chairman, and now state senator: Austin changed from a college and government town into a regional technology hub thanks largely to the discoveries and talent that came out of the University of Texas.
But UT and A&M wouldn’t be eligible for this money. Instead, it would go to emerging universities so they can rise to top-tier status as research institutions.
These campuses – and their students, professors and researchers – will drive the economy for generations. Unfortunately, Texas doesn’t have nearly as many as it needs to compete in the 21st Century economy.
As I said, only three Texas universities are considered Tier One, nationally recognized campuses. That puts us far behind California, which has nine Tier One universities, and New York, which has seven.
Worse yet, we’re losing 10,000 of Texas’ brightest high school graduates each year to other states. And we’re leaving as much as $3.7 billion a year in federal money on the table because those three institutions don’t have the capacity to do the research that would attract those funds.
Proposition 4 would start bringing that money and talent back to Texas.
It would create the National Research University Fund and fill it with about $425 million that the state has set aside for higher education but not spent. Campuses would qualify for the money by meeting tough requirements – such as boosting their endowments and increasing the number of Ph.D. graduates.
This effort would have a profound effect on students and on future generations. It also would transform the economy.
Economists estimate that for every $10 million in annual research spending, 334 jobs are created, $8.6 million in wages are paid, $500,000 in tax revenue is generated, and $13.5 million changes hands through economic activity. That’s a total return on investment of 226 percent.
Institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology help put that economic power into perspective. MIT alumni have founded more than 4,000 companies. Collectively, those businesses employ 1.1 million people and generate $232 billion in sales. That’s about the economic output of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Such benefits are well-known in Central Texas. But it’s past time that other parts of the state experience such prosperity. Besides, the three Tier One universities we have simply aren’t big enough to train our best kids and do the research that we’ll need in the 21st Century.
Proposition 4 is our chance to boost our institutions, help our economy today and prepare our children for tomorrow – all without raising taxes.
It’s a rare opportunity. And I hope you’ll vote yes on Proposition 4.