Friday, August 20, 2010

Legislation successful in helping Texas universities raise funds in push for tier-one status

By ERIN MULVANEY / The Dallas Morning News
Friday, August 20, 2010

AUSTIN – The presidents of seven state universities said at a hearing Thursday that they have raised a collective $110 million in the last year to improve programs because of a push by the state to move them into coveted tier-one status.

The hearing before House and Senate education committees, meeting jointly, was the first opportunity for the universities to say what they had done to win matching funds from the state. In 2009, the Legislature allotted nearly $300 million to encourage research at state universities so they might join the top-flight University of Texas and Texas A&M University.

Each president said the legislation – which guaranteed certain matching money for a number of achievements including faculty recruiting and private donations – generated new alumni donations, helped attract prestigious faculty and pushed the universities closer to their goal of national recognition as a research institution.

UT-Dallas President David Daniel focused on the Texas Research Incentive Plan, part of the legislation that matches state money with donations directed toward research.

He said the university raised $17 million from donations, matched by $15 million in state money. He estimated that without TRIP donations, they would have raised only $2 million. He called the legislation "transformative."

"The central message was that people got out their checkbooks and wrote checks because of the incentive program," Daniel said.

UT-San Antonio President Ricardo Romo said the tier-one legislation created a buzz in San Antonio. He said the mayor of San Antonio approached him to ask what it would take for the university to compete. The city made a $50 million donation.

"I can't think of another city, not in Texas, I can't think of another city in America where a city has stepped up and said, 'I want to help you become an outstanding institution,' " Romo said. "People are standing up to try to help."

The San Antonio donation will be used toward UTSA's Center for Sustainable Energy Research Institute, to be led by internationally renowned energy expert Les Shephard, who brought in $450 million in research grants to be part of the new project.

Texas Tech President Guy Bailey said his university produced an eight-point strategic plan to compete for funding. The plan includes increasing the number of undergraduates involved in research. Bailey said the legislation led to partnerships in cotton fiber science and wind energy projects, such as a $5 million deal with Bayer CropScience, which will be matched by the Texas Research Incentive Program.

The four other universities in the program are UT-El Paso, UT-Arlington, the University of North Texas and the University of Houston.

Although the presidents touted their accomplishments, lawmakers acknowledged it will be a long road for any of the universities to reach tier-one status.

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