Legislature and Looking Ahead to Fall
Dear UH System Colleagues,
After more than a year of unprecedented problems and considerable challenges, we are looking forward to the start of the fall semester next month with all our University of Houston System campuses fully open and operational.
There are no guarantees that everything will be just like before, but I am confident that our commitment to the core educational mission that each of our UHS universities embraces will serve to guide and invigorate us. A fundamental value we provide our students is the opportunity to participate in an immersive on-campus culture, one in which education is not just a concept but an experience. It is vital that you reestablish a community dedicated to intellectual pursuit and academic encouragement, making your campus a vibrant mecca of learning and discovery once more.
It is time to move forward, and I hope that you will all join me.
Now, I’d like to share some items of mutual interest.
Legislative Session: During the session that concluded May 31, our Governmental Relations team of Vice President Jason Smith, Deidra Garcia and Demetrio Hernandez did a remarkable job representing the UH System’s interests under difficult circumstances. A good deal of their work depends on maintaining relationships with the legislators and their staffs, which proved to be especially challenging in a predominantly virtual environment. Despite such limitations and the state’s tight resources, they produced positive results. In some cases, we achieved our goals; in others, we made enough progress to keep the momentum for either the special session or the next biennium.
Here is the update on most notable items:
- Formula Funding – The legislature added an additional $300 million in statewide formula funding during the last days of the session. If this had not occurred, this would have resulted in a significant drop in the rate at which all state universities receive funding for student attendance, down to $52.31. Still, the additional dollars did not fully cover the cost of enrollment growth, resulting in a reduction of the rate from $55.83 in the last budget down to $55.66 per semester credit hour this budget cycle. This $300 million in additional funding resulted in an increase for UH of $19.7 million; for UH-Clear Lake of $5.8 million; for UH-Downtown of $2.2 million; and for UH-Victoria of $2.2 million.
- Start-up Funding for UH College of Medicine – The legislature funded $20 million to support the College of Medicine at UH.
- “Top 50” Rider for UH – A budget rider asking for a study that evaluates the benefits of having another TOP 50 public university in Texas was approved.
- Expansion Funding – We took a significant step in the right direction to support downward expansion efforts at UH-Victoria and UH-Clear Lake, allowing these institutions to receive supporting funds until they can fund freshman and sophomore level courses solely through formula funding.
- Financial Aid (TEXAS Grants) – Despite serious efforts from all universities, this request was not supported but it will be our priority in the next session. We continue to lose ground in providing enough money for low and middle income students who are eligible for state-supported financial aid. Only several budget cycles ago, the state was providing enough TEXAS grant funding for an estimated 95% of eligible students. This budget cycle, the legislature has only provided enough funding for an estimated 56% of eligible students in our state. The lack of investment in TEXAS grants, coupled with a lack of investment in formula funding, makes it that much harder for low and middle income students to attend state universities in Texas.
- Comprehensive Regional Universities (CRUs) – SB1295, which provides financial incentives to graduate at-risk students at CRUs (UHCL, UHV, and UHD being in this group), has been signed by the Governor. This was a joint effort of several university systems. Unfortunately, the budget does not include the funding for the new program in this budget cycle. But we believe this is an important first step in getting additional funding next session for graduating at-risk students at these universities.
- Restoration of 5% Cut to 2021 Budget – The legislature chose not to restore the 5% cuts that were made to each general academic institution during the summer of 2020 in anticipation that the state would have significantly less revenue to distribute in that budget biennium as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Tuition Revenue Bonds (TRBs) – HB 1530, the only TRB bill, passed out of the House, but was not acted upon by the Senate. However, there has been ongoing discussion that TRBs could be funded through the use of available federal stimulus dollars during an upcoming special session.
COVID-19 Precautions: As we continue to return to our offices and classrooms during the next few weeks, I want to assure you that we are doing so with an ever-watchful eye on the pandemic. Fortunately, the threat appears to have waned considerably – thanks in large part to vaccinations and other precautions – but we are taking nothing for granted. Our universities are still actively monitoring their individual situations and free COVID-19 testing is still being offered (by appointment) at each school. You will find a link to updated information about current procedures and protocols prominently displayed on each university’s homepage. And I would like to encourage you to consider getting vaccinated against COVID-19 for your own sake and those around you.
Returning to Campus: Leadership at each of our four UHS universities has determined what particular schedule will be followed in transitioning back to their respective schools, but we do have a common goal: to be fully functioning by August 2 and ready to greet the fall semester with enthusiasm and commitment.
Both as individual institutions and as a system, we have pledged that student success will continue to be our top priority. As I mentioned before, I firmly believe we have an obligation to offer our students a robust, fully rounded educational opportunity that can best be experienced in a dynamic environment – our campuses. Each of our UHS universities may approach this somewhat differently, depending on their unique student bodies and specific personnel. But whether its Cougars, Gators, Hawks or Jaguars, we share a mutual objective – doing what we know is best for our students.
I want to thank everyone for the many sacrifices you have made during the past year that allowed us to fulfill our educational mission. And I want to ask for your support, your inspiration and your perseverance as we take on the next set of challenges together.
With warm regards,